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Lithium resources and their potential to support battery supply chains in Africa

A new BGS report reviews known resources of lithium and engagement in the battery supply chain across key African countries.

14/07/2021 By BGS Press
Kamativi lithium pegmatite, Zimbabwe
Kamativi lithium pegmatite in Zimbabwe. Source: BGS © UKRI.

Decarbonisation of energy and transport, to meet global net zero ambitions, will require significantly increased amounts of the raw materials used to manufacture batteries and other green technologies. This report focuses specifically on lithium, one of the major battery raw materials, for which demand is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades.

Lithium supply chains are complex and commonly global in their extent, with steps that include exploration, mining, processing, manufacturing, use and recycling. The continent of Africa has significant natural lithium resources, which may provide an opportunity for many African countries to contribute to meeting increased demand whilst also supporting economic growth. This report reviews known resources of lithium and engagement in the battery supply chain across key African countries.

Many African countries (most notably Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali) have lithium resources and the potential for lithium mines. However, there is much less engagement in critical stages further along the supply chain. Currently, Africa has very little capacity for lithium mineral processing, further refining of lithium chemicals, or manufacture of battery components. This leads to a typical situation where mineral concentrate is exported: value is added outside Africa and products using lithium-ion batteries are then imported. There is clear potential for Africa’s lithium resources to make an important economic contribution, but this should be placed in the context of the wider supply chain. In particular, the potential for regional cooperation on refining and production of lithium chemicals deserves further consideration.

There is currently limited data on the specific socio-economic and environmental impacts of lithium pegmatite mining. Development of new lithium mines across Africa will be most successful if good governance, human rights and minimising environmental impacts are all considered as priorities.

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