China dominates global lithium trade
China strengthens its grip on global lithium trade amid processing plant building boom in Zimbabwe.
China dominates global lithium trade
The Economics of Geography

China dominates global lithium trade

Photo: AFP
Eurasia 25/03/2024 08:24

China strengthens its grip on global lithium trade amid processing plant building boom in Zimbabwe.

China is getting a head start in the global rush for lithium after several mining companies completed multimillion-dollar processing plants for the “white gold” in Zimbabwe, South China Morning Post reported

Major Chinese companies, including Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, Sinomine Resource Group and Chengxin Lithium Group, all completed the construction or upgrade of lithium processing plants in Zimbabwe last year.

The southern African country is home to one of the world’s largest hard rock lithium reserves, attracting Chinese companies in search of raw materials for lithium-ion batteries used to power a host of products from electric vehicles to solar panels.

This means that in the global transition to green energy, Zimbabwe’s lithium reserves are hot property.

Beijing currently controls the global lithium-ion battery industry, while it also dominates much of the processing of the mineral. To get the raw materials it needs, China has ramped up its procurement of lithium from Africa and elsewhere amid disquiet from Washington over Beijing’s grip on critical metal supply chains.

That grip got even tighter last year when African exports of lithium, which mostly go to China, rose sharply between August and November. That was when the companies commissioned processing plants for two products – mainly lithium concentrates spodumene and petalite – for export to China for further processing into lithium chemicals to make batteries and other electronics.

According to data from London-based price reporting agency Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, in the three months to the end of November 2023 Zimbabwean spodumene concentrate exports to China increased nearly five-fold to 177,000 tonnes (195,109 tons), compared to 38,000 tonnes in the same period of 2022.

Adam Megginson, a price and data analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, said 2024 is set to be an even bigger year, with several major projects due to come online which will see Zimbabwe’s lithium capacity triple compared to 2023.

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