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Can Southern African States Move Further Up the Lithium Value Chain?

In 1987 two researchers at the University of Leeds published a paper showing that lithium-bearing pegmatite – a hard rock which is one of three types of lithium deposit – was “widespread on the African continent”. At that time, however, tackling climate change was not yet a global priority and lithium was not yet considered a “critical” mineral, let alone one which could help to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuel. But now that most governments have net-zero strategies to decarbonise their economies, some of which include ambitious electric vehicle (EV) targets, questions about the sufficient supply of lithium – of which 8 kg can be used in a single EV battery – give a new impetus to the geological assessment of Southern Africa. If countries were to follow the goal of limiting global warming below 2 degrees set at the 2015 Paris Agreement, demand for lithium in 2040 could reach more than 40 times that of 2020, leading to potential shortages in the near future, “unless sufficient investments are made to expand production,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned.