BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
LONDON-listed resources outfit Premier African Minerals this week said results from its drilling programme at Zulu Lithium Mine near Bulawayo produced encouraging results, as Australia-Stock-Exchange-quoted Prospect Resources delivered its first samples to Chinese offtake partners also this week.
This week’s developments marked an important step in Zimbabwe’s ambition to transform its mining industry, currently turning over about US$2 billion annual revenue, into a US$12 billion sector by 2023.
Following recent finds, Zimbabwe has placed its lithium assets at the heart of this ambition, and also looks to gold, platinum and diamonds in the expansion drive.
About four lithium projects are currently under development in Zimbabwe, where firms including Premier and Prospect expect to invest up to US$300 million in the coming few years to reach full throttle production.
Premier said results of the samples confirmed significant lithium grade and lithium mineralisation.
It said final analysis from drill hole Zulu 1A confirmed lithium grade of up to 2,33% lithium oxide and lithium mineralisation from 214m to 238m down hole.
Another hole returned lithium mineralisation from 78m to 121m with grades up to 2,35%.
“When all results are in, the company intends to issue a maiden lithium resource report on what the company sees as a project of significance,” chief executive officer George Roach said.
“We have seen lithium bearing pegmatites (mainly spodumene and petalite) to vertical depths of over 200m and along the entire strike length of some 3,5 km, with some holes showing visible lithium mineralisation over drilled widths of up to 37m. We await the balance of the drill-hole results from this extensive drilling programme over the 3,5 km strike of the Zulu deposit drilled to date.”
He spoke as peers at Prospect, which is developing Arcadia Mine, about 60 km east of Harare, delivered the first technical grade lithium sample to Chinese offtake partner, Sinomine.
The samples were produced by a pilot plant commissioned last month, in another milestone.
In a statement, Prospect said it looked forward to delivering high purity lithium products to the downstream supply chain to complete respective product qualification processes.
The delivery marked the start of lithium production not only at Prospect but in Zimbabwe.
Prospect plans to produce up to 1,2 million tonnes of the mineral a year, before later ramping up output to 2,4 million tonnes.
Managing director Sam Hosack, described the handover as a huge leap for the firm, one of the first multinationals to take the bold step to enter the lithium market in the country.
“The close proximity of the Arcadia project to the country’s capital, Harare, provides significant advantages, which have already been utilised to successfully execute the pilot plant project through development and into production,” he said.
“We are a team made up of Zimbabweans, with a deep determination to get Arcadia funded and operational. The Special Economic Zone licence, and the close integration and alignment we enjoy with the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency has been critical to the success of the pilot plant and is expected to make a material difference to our ability to fund the Arcadia Project.
“With the Arcadia pilot plant in production, the teams are now focused on generating high purity on specification technical grade petalite to showcase Arcadia’s petalite to the largest customers in the global glass and ceramics markets,” Hosack said.
A second Prospect offtake partner, Sibelco, is said to have requested additional tonnes after receiving the original planned 200 tonnes to seek qualification with a greater number of customers across Europe and Asia.