HARARE -- Zimbabwe's sole producer of lithium, Bikita Minerals, says it will spend at least 5.0 million US dollars to explore for spodumene, a more valuable form of the mineral used mainly in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.

At the moment, Bikita Minerals, which is located in Masvingo province, is only mining petalite ore, which contains lithium mainly used in the manufacture of ceramic products and special glasses.

Bikita Minerals chief executive officer Grant Hudson said exploration work had already started, with initial results expected soon. We have been drilling for spodumene here. Samples have been sent to Australia and South Africa, other samples will also be sent to Germany, he said.

We have a budget for drilling of about 5.7 million USD. Hopefully, by the end of the first quarter next year we would have concluded.

According to estimates, the global lithium-ion battery market is expected to reach 93.1 billion USD by 2025 because of increased usage of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and portable consumer electronics. Lithium-ion batteries are used in applications that require lightweight and high-energy density solutions.

Meanwhile, Hudson said the company was targeting to produce 80,000 tonnes of petalite after purchasing new plant equipment for 4.0 million USD.

Zimbabwe is targeting to produce at least 10 percent of global lithium output within the next four years, following the discovery of new deposits of the mineral in different parts of the country.

The discovery of new deposits in areas including Kamativi in Matabeleland North province and Mashonaland Central province has resulted in the country experiencing a scramble for lithium exploration and extraction

by foreign investors.

In January, one of the investors, Australia-based miner Prospect Resources raised 10 million USD to accelerate development of its Arcadia Lithium Mine, located about 38 kilometres east of the capital, Harare.

The Zimbabwe government has already declared the Arcadia Lithium Mine, which is expected to start production in the third quarter of 2018, as a priority project, to take advantage of growing global demand.

Another project, the Zulu Mine located about 80 kilometres outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, is at an advanced stage of development. The Zulu Mine project is being spearheaded by Premier African Minerals.

Lithium is the lightest known metal and can be alloyed with aluminium, copper, manganese and cadmium to make strong, lightweight metals.