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.