Good news has greeted the shores of this nation once again, from Ewoyaa, Abonko and Kaampakrom in western Ghana. Yet another mineral reserve has been found and is soon to be explored in commercial quantities, adding to the abundant reserves of gold, bauxite, aluminum, and several other minerals. This time, a green mineral that plays a crucial role in energy transition, climate resilience, jobs, and economic growth. The Ewoyaa lithium project is estimated to hold 25.6 million tonnes (mt) of probable ore grading 1.22% lithium oxide (Li₂O), as of June 2023. This piece aims to explore the unique benefits, analyze how countries have managed lithium mining and production effectively, discuss policy and regulation, and examine lithium within a circular economy to promote sustainable economic growth.
Lithium is a valuable raw material for the production of batteries, glass, aluminum, ceramics, and more. Its significance lies in the manufacturing of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries used in electrical gadgets such as mobile phones, electronics, toys, wireless headphones, handheld power tools, small and large appliances, electric vehicles, and electrical energy storage systems.
As widely known, the main challenge associated with renewable energy (green energy) is the intermittent nature of its resources (sun, wind, etc.), which necessitates the use of energy storage systems. This is where green minerals like lithium come into play. In the realm of transportation, lithium-ion batteries are essential for electric vehicles, whose demand continues to rise, moving the world towards a more sustainable path as dependence on climate-disruptive fossil fuels diminishes.
In this piece, Ahabanmono Impact recommends the following reforms to maximize the effective mining and use of lithium:
- Clamping Down on Corruption
Considering the impact and potential of lithium, any stakeholder corruption is an act against climate and green justice. The mining sector in sub-Saharan African countries has often been marred by corruption, illegal mining, the exportation of raw minerals, and a lack of value addition. The Zimbabwean President’s words resonate: “Lithium is the mineral of the present and the future… and value addition will position our country as an emerging and competitive player in the global lithium value chain.” Following their ban on the export of raw lithium ore, African countries like Ghana must strive to maximize all the benefits of lithium, as seen in Australia, Chile, Indonesia, and China, where they are leaders in exploiting the mineral. While Ghana’s Green Minerals Policy is commendable, the state must be more focused on attracting investors for local development of the entire lithium supply chain.
- Adopting the Chilean Model
Chile’s new National Lithium Strategy places a strong emphasis on increasing the state’s stakes in lithium mining leases and requiring mining companies to contribute to local development. This strategy also includes joint partnerships with state-owned companies for new mining projects. Similar strategies have been implemented in Australia and Argentina. Ghana, as a newcomer, should consider adopting this model to leverage its potential in the electric vehicle manufacturing industry in Africa through lithium processing.
Properly managed lithium resources can create both direct and indirect job opportunities, attract investments in portable electric device manufacturing, and reduce dependence on lithium-ion products such as batteries. This development can also contribute to Ghana’s goal of achieving 10% renewable energy in its energy mix, with a direct impact on energy storage systems and more.
As promising as lithium is, its mining, if not properly managed, can harm and pollute water bodies, aquatic life, and more. Hence, there is a critical need for environmental and social impact assessments to inform policies governing its mining and production.
- Patronizing Recycling and Reuse of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Recycling lithium batteries is often overlooked but holds immense potential. Unfortunately, waste management in Ghana is inadequate, especially for batteries and electric appliances, which can have severe environmental consequences. Chemicals can leach into soils and water bodies if not properly managed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should prioritize battery waste segregation and establish collection points for future refurbishment, reuse, or recycling. Despite being highly recyclable, only about 5% of global lithium batteries are recycled. Given the increasing global demand for batteries, adopting a circular approach is essential.
- Collaborating with Other African Countries
The challenges of illegal and poorly managed cobalt mining in Congo highlight the need for African countries to collaborate and support each other in mining green minerals. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the AU Africa mining vision should be more than theoretical concepts. Enhanced collaboration and cooperation among African green mining countries will ensure fair business practices with international mining companies, enforce local content addition, and prioritize local and African trading. This united approach will benefit Ghana, Zimbabwe, and all other green mineral-resourced countries in Africa.
- Investing in a Lithium Research Institute
Research plays a significant role in driving new developments. Ahabanmono Impact urges the government to establish a lithium research institute to advance our understanding and pre-empt future developments in this green mineral. Ghana is strategically positioned to make lithium its competitive advantage and lead the African Electric Vehicles industry, contributing to energy storage systems and renewable energy development, aligned with the country’s goals of achieving a 10% renewable energy mix by 2030 and a just energy transition plan by 2070.