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Bikita banks on lithium

Bikita Minerals CEO Grant Hudson’s face glows whenever he speaks of the journey his company is about to embark on: spodumene mining.

BY NDAMU SANDU

The high-value mineral is highly sought after worldwide as it contains lithium, which is used in the production of batteries. Australia has the biggest spodumene mine.
This new journey excites Hudson, who however, is not throwing caution to the wind.

“[We go] Slowly, we don’t like to run before we can walk. We have done it properly; we have used third party competent people to manage the process so that we can attract funding if we need to. We have done drilling on about a third of the deposits. We are now doing the metallurgical testing,” he told Standardbusiness during a tour of the mine last week.

“As soon we get the reports out of that, we will then be able to go to attract funding to do the rest of the project which will be a big capital project.”

Bikita Minerals, he said, was better placed than most as it already had the infrastructure.

He said lithium always comes from spodumene and has been the mineral of choice because it has about 50% more lithium than petalite.

Hudson said the good news was that Bikita believed it had spodumene deposits.

“Prospect and Arcadia have petalite and spodumene. Technically speaking, you can have petalite and take it through the same process as spodumene. Economically speaking, no one does it because why would you put something, which has 4% into a process where you can put something, which has 8%? Economically, it makes no sense to do that,” he said.

Aussie-listed Prospect Resources has established a lithium lab in Kwekwe while Arcadia’s project is located 38km east of the capital, Harare.

“We are excited that we are starting this journey along with other mines in the country. Let’s see where it gets us, let’s see where we go. It’s an exciting time for Zimbabwe and we are glad to be part of that,” Hudson said.

The miner is also ramping up output of petalite projecting to nearly double production to 80 000 tonnes this year from
42 000 tonnes in 2017.

“We have put a new plant. we have upgraded the entire crushing facility. We took out the two secondary crushers and put in new crushers and we built a new DMS (Dense Media Separation). We have spent a lot of time on exploration. In terms of mining, we use Kinsey mining contractors. They are excellent. Certainly the plant is big enough to handle that,” he said when asked if the company had the capacity to attain that feat.

Mining is capital intensive. Hudson said while Bikita took over the mine in 2014 that had basic infrastructure, they had to bankroll most of the investments here through shareholder loans. He said the company had been lucky to get a loan from a financial institution, adding that renewed confidence in the economy would lure investors into the mining sector.

“Where the country is today, we think a good project will certainly attract capital because people are not afraid of Zimbabwe as they were last year. They see it as a better destination. I think we have got a little way to go in making sure that we walk the talk. As we do that we will be able to attract the investment we need,” Hudson said.

“It’s a lot of money; every company does that. If you look at Canada, they incentivise exploration. If you are doing exploration in Canada, you get a tax rebate. The government wants you to explore. They are saying it’s good for us if people discover new mineral ore bodies and therefore we give people a tax incentive for exploration. I think that is the sort of thing that government can look at,” he said.

Bikita boasts of being the only petalite miner in the world. Despite this, the miner does not have pressure to supply the market.

“There is nothing we can do about petalite. Petalite has been there for many years. That is why we are the only miner for petalite. It’s a niche product,” Hudson said.
“What everyone is getting excited about is lithium for batteries, which comes from spodumene,” he said with a glowing face, adding: “Who knows, keep your fingers crossed.”

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