Dispute over Congo lithium heats up with dueling claims

26th October 2023 By: Bloomberg

A long-running dispute over one of the world’s largest hard-rock lithium deposits in the Democratic Republic of Congo took a new turn with China’s Zijin Mining Group Co. announcing a venture to develop part of the site.

Zijin said Tuesday it would partner with state-owned Cominiere to explore a newly created permit area in the southeastern town of Manono. But Australia’s AVZ Minerals Ltd. says the area covered by the new permit belongs to it.

Manono’s lithium has become another flashpoint in the struggle for control of green-energy minerals. Congo says it wants to use the lithium and its vast supply of cobalt to eventually produce electric vehicle batteries. The US has agreed to support the plan as it attempts to reduce Chinese control over manufacturing and mineral processing.

“AVZ is seeking to affirm this position through its discussions with the competent DRC government agencies and, ultimately, through the various arbitration proceedings,” the company said in an emailed response to questions Wednesday. 

AVZ is involved in multiple arbitration cases at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris over rights to the Manono lithium permits including one with a unit of Zijin and another with Cominiere.

Congo’s mines ministry did not respond to a message requesting comment. The country’s official mining permit map lists the new Zijin-Cominiere venture, Manono Lithium, as holding an exploration permit granted Oct. 19. 

Zijin said its Jinxiang Lithium Ltd. unit holds 61% of the project with Cominiere holding the rest. The permit was carved out of the northeast part of the permit previously held by AVZ, according to Zijin. AVZ says it still owns the entire permit area. 

As part of its agreement, Manono Lithium will contribute $70-million “to support humanitarian relief efforts in the northeast and east part of the DRC” where millions are displaced amid multiple violent conflicts.

Zijin said it had also won the rights to refurbish the dormant Mpiana-Mwanga hydropower station to provide electricity to the project.