SA firm opens doors for Zim lithium sector

Zimbabwe holds some of the world's largest reserves of hard rock lithium, a vital mineral in the production of clean energy technologies but the industry has failed to take off following a ban of raw lithium by the government.

NYANZA Light Metals, a South African firm, has extended an olive branch to the Zimbabwean lithium industry to utilise its Durban-based titanium dioxide plant to enrich the lithium value chain through the production of electric vehicle batteries using the latest Chinese technology. 

Nyanza is a private joint venture between investors from Zimbabwe, South Africa and the South African government. Nyanza construction rollout is divided into three phases.

The multi-billion-rand project presents an opportunity for South Africa to demonstrate that Africans can transform the continent from being a mere exporter of low-value primary raw materials to becoming an exporter of value-added products.

Nyanza’s world-class chemical and mineral beneficiation complex will produce primarily 80 000 tonnes per annum of titanium dioxide, mainly used in the manufacturing of industrial coatings, paints, cosmetics, paper, plastics, and other food ingredients.

Zimbabwe holds some of the world's largest reserves of hard rock lithium, a vital mineral in the production of clean energy technologies but the industry has failed to take off following a ban of raw lithium by the government.

The project, according to its proponents, has opened a window of opportunities for the Zimbabwean lithium sector.

“Nyanza produces quite a significant amount of iron sulfate (Copperas), which is used as a water treatment chemical,” Nyanza chief executive Donovan Chimhandamba said.

“Nyanza, working with the Chinese Engineering group, will be also reacting the iron sulfate with lithium oxide concentrate and high-purity phosphate from the region to produce sought-after lithium iron phosphate (LFP), which is a high-grade and most sought-after electric vehicle battery material.

“Zimbabwe is rich in lithium resources, which together with our ferrous sulfate, a by-product of the Nyanza project, produce lithium iron phosphate, which is a critical material for the electric vehicle batteries and the new energy industry.

“There is a good opportunity for such cooperation as China has technology and experience, while Africa has resources,” he said.

Nyanza is a chemicals company founded in 2011 to process titanium mineral ores and slags to produce titanium dioxide, which will be exported as a higher added value product.

Currently, the production and processing operations for lithium are concentrated mainly in Australia, Chile, and Brazil.

Efforts to increase lithium production have placed a new focus on Zimbabwe, which has the largest lithium reserve in Africa and estimated to have the highest number of lithium projects under exploration on the African continent.

Chimhandamba said the project was expected to promote industrialisation that will stimulate the local supply chains, which is consistent with relevant policies.

“South Africa has been focusing on promoting industrialisation led by mineral beneficiation and value addition of the vast mineral resources in South Africa for years,” he said.

The project plans to use other low-cost titanium slag as raw material for production, to reduce the manufacturing cost of titanium dioxide pigment, while realising a circular economy.

He said the project, if put into production, will effectively supply the domestic demand of South Africa, and the African continent market, and also export to Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

“Thanks to the 'Belt and Road' initiative, our dreams are coming true!” he said.

At the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) held in Beijing on October 17 2023, a "breakthrough" was made.

Nyanza and East China Engineering Science and Technology Co, a subsidiary of China National Chemical Engineering Group Co, signed an engineering, procurement, and construction contract for an 80 000tpa sulfuric acid titanium dioxide project.

With shared technology and cooperation, Nyanza will produce titanium dioxide pigment in South Africa, demonstrating how the “Belt and Road Initiative” is impacting development in Africa through cooperation with China.

“Titanium dioxide is a basic and important kind of chemical raw material. The annual demand for titanium dioxide in Africa is over 150 000 tonnes, all of which are imported,” Chimhandamba said.

“Africa is rich in raw materials for titanium dioxide production, among which South Africa accounts for 22% of the global total, ranking second in the world.”

However, he said Africa has to export minerals at a low price and then import the highly-priced value titanium dioxide pigment products as the continent has no production and processing capacity to beneficiate or perform value addition to the minerals.




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