Rwanda may build Lithium refinery next year

By Zaninka Umutesi
On 14 December 2022 at 01:05

Lithium is one of high value precious stones with its price ascending daily. The mineral was discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfvedson. The previous stone is used to make a variety of things including batteries for phones, computers, cameras, and other electronic devices.

Before 2020, the mineral was not so popular given that its price was still low. As of December last year, a kilogram of Lithium cost US$9 (Rwf9000) from US$20.5 in January 2018.

The stone’s decrease in value was mainly attributed to large production which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In April 2021, Lithium’s price increased by more than 600% and reached US$78,000 (over Rwf78 million) per ton.

The great value is related to increased production of electric vehicles that require large energy-saving batteries.

In 2021, various manufacturers sold 6.6 million electric vehicles, a double of electric vehicles sold in 2020.

Experts in the mining field show that Lithium will continue to be an excellent investment as over 26 million electric vehicles are expected to be sold by 2030.

Currently, the world’s largest lithium exporters include Chile, China, the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, and Belgium.

In 2020, Rwanda announced that conducted the preliminary research confirmed the presence of such minerals initially in Ngororero District.

Speaking with IGIHE, the Deputy CEO Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB), Dr. Ivan Twagirashema said that Lithium is not solely found in Ngororero.

He explained that Lithium has been discovered in different locations all over the country.

“We realized that the Lithium discovered in Ngororero is present across the country. It resembles existing crystals that some people used them to build houses without knowing that they using Lithium. However, the reason is related to that fact that the mineral’s price was low in the past two years,” said Dr. Twagirashema.

He went on to say that the value of this precious stone continues to skyrocket.

"A ton of refined Lithium used to cost US$5,000 per ton but the price rose to US$85,000 per ton within two years due to its use in the production of electric cars," said Dr. Twagirashema.

Considering the high demand for this precious stone, Dr. Twagirashema disclosed, more people have started to recognize its benefits.

“Today, a ton of these unrefined stones containing at least 8% of Lithium costs between US$2,000 and US$3,000,” he noted.

Rwanda to establish Lithium refinery

Mining is the second largest export sector in the Rwandan economy after Tourism.

In light of this, Dr. Twagirashema said that Rwanda has started discussions to process and add value to Lithium before exportation.

"The study for two projects under discussions is going on and might be finalized in the near future,” he said.

Considering the current stage of discussions, Dr. Ivan Twagirashema expressed optimism that Lithium refinery will be built next year.

"The two companies are working on it for us to begin the construction of Lithium refinery next year so that we can start exporting, in the coming months, Lithium powder at higher price and increase domestic taxes,” he noted.

Dr. Twagirashema said that the preliminary research has shown that Lithium is present all over the country where it can be found without excavation in some places.

The 2020 report from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) indicated that the country fetched over US$1.4 billion from minerals exported in five years from 2015 to 2019.

In 2015, Rwanda generated US$149 million from exported minerals including coltan, wolfram and others.

In the following years, Rwanda generated US$166, 5 million and US$373 million respectively.

As she attended the launch of Mining Week in Rwanda on Monday 5th December 2022, the CEO of RMB, Amb. Yamina Karitanyi said Rwanda generated US$733 million in 2020 from minerals’ exports up from US$373 of 2017.

In 2021, revenues dropped to US$516 million owing to reduced prices on the international market. Amb. Karitanyi said that the year 2022 is promising in consideration of the US$585 generated in the first nine months.

She attributed the increase in revenues to Rwanda’s initiative to establish plants adding value to minerals before exportation.

These include gold and cassiterite refineries. Amb. Karitanyi also revealed that the country mulls opening a coltan processing plant in the near future.

The mining sector in Rwanda currently employs 46,000 people with a target to increase the number to more than 100,000 by 2024.

Lithium is one of high value precious stones in the mining industry.