Zerttew Holdings is exploring for lithium in Zimbabwe and plans to eventually establish a battery value chain in the country, Zerttew co-founder Valentine Garacho told S&P Global Commodity Insights in an interview.
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While the company is still at an early exploration phase and is carrying out a drilling program, it hopes to fast track towards lithium mining, as the samples collected so far have been "quite encouraging," Garacho said.
However, the company will only know after a definitive feasibility study, including a resource statement, whether an orebody was economic and whether Zerttew should carry on exploring, pass it on or mine.
The company is looking to carry out exploration on petalite orebodies in three places, namely in Gwanda in south Zimbabwe, in the Mashonaland central province in north Zimbabwe and in Bikita in the Masvingo province.
The drilling was currently taking place in Bikita, and Garacho said Zerttew's early exploration program would determine targets of where drilling would be done, adding that geologists had been taking samples and had drilled a few core holes that had already been sent to the laboratory.
Within the next year, the company plans to complete a pre-feasibility study, a definitive feasibility study and then a bankable feasibility study, he said. The company would also carry out trial mining using the pilot plant at some point, he added.
"We don't see ourselves taking more than a year to get our pilot project on site -- to refine whatever we've got from concentrate into pre-final product before it becomes a battery," Garacho said.
The company has already raised $6 million internally and requires the bankable feasibility study to raise funds elsewhere, he said.
The company plans for the pilot plant to process around 2 mt/hour for around 20 hours/day for an initial 90-day period to see how competent the ground is.
As Zimbabwe has an electricity deficit, Zerttew will look to run the project using solar power, which would also provide it with a greener footprint, Garacho said.
Thereafter it will look for partners to assist it in building and operating a larger commercial plant, which will look to supply lithium hydroxide to the largest electric vehicles producing countries, including China, the US, Europe and Japan, Garacho said.
However, the ultimate goal of Zerttew is to mine, manufacture and sell lithium-ion batteries from Africa.
"We need to change the narrative about value addition. You have the economies that have full circle in other jurisdictions, but it's high time Zimbabwe has a circular economy as well, and that is the hope," Garacho said.
Zimbabwe is not new to lithium mining -- it exported 1,200 mt of lithium concentrate in 2021, Garacho told S&P Global.
"Zimbabwe has historically been mining lithium for the past 50 years and it's only now that the world is gravitating to alternative solutions for batteries, lithium included," he said.
The energy transition was resulting in global demand for lithium. "There's a big boom coming and Zimbabwe is going to be a part of it," he said
Zerttew is not the only company looking to extract lithium from Zimbabwe.
In December, Chinese cobalt maker Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt announced it was acquiring 100% of the Arcadia hard-rock lithium mine in Zimbabwe for $422 million.
It said at the time it would pay $377.8 million to lithium explorer Prospect Resources for its 87% stake in the mine and a combined $44.2 million to individual Kingston Kajese and family trust Tamari Trust for their 6% and 7% stakes, respectively.
The Arcadia project has a mineral resource of 72.7 million mt, a lithium oxide grade of 1.06% and the volume of lithium oxide was 770,000 mt, or 1.9 million mt of lithium carbonate equivalent. It also has reserves of 42.3 million mt with a lithium oxide grade of 1.19% and the amount of lithium metal was 504,000 mt, or 1.24 million mt of lithium carbonate equivalent.