Mali Emerges as Target of Chinese Lithium Interest

On September 1, U.K.-registered Kodal Minerals signed an MoU with Sinohydro to jointly develop the Bougouni lithium project (forecast to have annual production of 2 million tons per annum) in what is the latest instance of Chinese involvement in Mali’s lithium sector.

Kodal is already associated with a number of Chinese companies, including Shandong Ruifu Lithium Industry, which operates a lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide production plant in Tai’an, China and received delegations from Mali in 2018 and 2020.  Under the terms of the agreement, Kodal granted Sinohydro a six-month window to advise on project financing and develop an EPC contract proposal.

The agreement comes despite the recent deposal of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a military coup, a sign of Sinohydro’s readiness to prioritize a role in lithium supply chains over potential security and political concerns and an indicator of the importance that Chinese actors place on securing a leading position in the global lithium supply chain.

The link-up is the latest step in China’s interest in sourcing lithium from Mali.  On September 4, 2019, Mali Lithium signed a letter of intent with China Minmetals Corporation subsidiary Changsha Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (CRIMM).  Since signing, CRIMM has reviewed a pre-feasibility study for Mali Lithium’s Goulamina project and has committed to testing ore from the project at its Changsha laboratory.

Beyond Mali, Chinese companies have expanded their role in global lithium development in recent years, with major investments at both ends of the supply chain. These range from CATL’s development of a $2 billion battery cell factory in Germany, initiated in June 2018, to Tianqi’s acquisition of a 24% stake in Chilean miner SQM for $4 billion in 2019.