More than a year after Ghana announced the latest discovery of a rare metal, lithium, in commercial quantities, a precious metals explorer and producer is slowly but surely moving closer to commencing production. However, it will not start from the deposits whose discovery was announced in January last year.
That deposit of Lithium, which is among the 10 most expensive minerals in the world, was discovered in the Volta Region by the Minerals Commission which had been carrying out a nationwide geological survey that has also indicated deposits in the Ashanti and Western Regions as well. But production of lithium in Ghana will most likely start from the exploitation of deposits in the Central Region, which are held under an exploration and production license belonging to Iron Ridge Resources, an Australian company. The company has a concession covering 684 square kilometres, which it began drilling in 2017.
IronRidge Resources Ltd. last year said it identified “multiple, significant outcroppings of lithium in Ghana” which it claims are very high grade.
The Australian company, through a joint venture with Ghanaian companies Obotan Minerals Ltd. and Merlink Resources Ltd., now holds the rights to acquire historic Egyasimanku Hill, which surveys indicate has a potential deposit of 1.48 million tons.
The company recently expanded its lithium interests in Ghana, including an agreement with Ghanaian company Joy Transporters that provides IronRidge with exclusive rights to an exploration license in the Central Region town of Saltpond and lithium project in Cape Coast.
It has budgeted a major portion of its 5.4 million pounds sterling in new financing for further RC and then diamond drilling in Ghana.
However, commercial product won’t come for years, according to Christopher Perrella, chemicals analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
“It will be a number of years until you see commercial product. It may be a decade before you see commercial extraction,” he said. “Extraction and processing it chemically so that battery makers would use it is a significant investment in green fields. It must then must meet quality standards. This takes capital and industrial know-how.”
Ghana does have a location advantage. “You can get it out in ocean and into global market, but it depends on global demand in 10 years and that’s so far out,” Perrella adds.
But the lithium industry is projected to grow over the next five years, according to a 2017 report from consultancy IbisWorld. This growth and the rising green movement will fuel demand for electric vehicles and energy storage systems that use lithium-ion batteries. Overall, revenue is projected to grow at an annualized rate of 1.4 percent over the five years to US$ 965 million. Currently Lithium carbonate sells for between US$11,300-12,200 per ton on international metals markets, with demand easily outstripping supply.
With this market situation, the discovery of commercial quantities of lithium in the Volta Region – which adds to recent discoveries in the Ashanti and Western Regions – is generating excitement in Ghana
According to the Chief Executive of the Commission, Kwaku Addai Antwi-Boasiako, the mineral was identified during a nationwide exploration exercise.
“The mining activities will start but we want to attract investments into the Volta Region, that is where we have the Lithium and all these rare minerals. Lithium is about green energy and renewable energy. So, if you have lithium and all these rare minerals in the Volta Region, you will want to expand the base of mineral production.
Mr. Antwi-Boasiako added that the Commission was making efforts to ensure that the discovery sites are not encroached upon by illegal miners. To this end it is establishing 14 new satellite stations to monitor the discovery sites.
He further noted that the Commission will follow due procedures before it considers issuance of licenses to companies to mine the mineral in the country.
The lightest metal on the periodic table, lithium has a unique chemical profile and is often alloyed with aluminum, copper, manganese, and cadmium to make high-performance alloys for aircraft. A derivative, lithium hydroxide, is used to absorb carbon dioxide in space vehicles. Lithium compounds also are used as mood-stabilizing drugs.
Lithium batteries are common in a variety of consumer devices—from laptops, mobile phones to golf carts and electronic cigarettes—and has industrial applications as well, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lubricating greases, and fusion fuel in staged thermonuclear weapon