Zambia's Mopani plans to resume cobalt production as prices rise

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LUSAKA, May 24 (Reuters) - Zambia's Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) plans to resume cobalt production that was halted more than a decade ago after international prices collapsed, an executive at state-owned ZCCM-IH said on Tuesday.

Accelerating sales of electric vehicles have fuelled a scramble for nickel, cobalt and lithium, propelling prices of the battery materials to multi-year highs.

Brian Musonda, chief investment officer at ZCCM-IH, Zambia's mining investment arm, said the rising prices were a strong economic reason to restart cobalt processing.

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"Going into next year, Mopani will start to process concentrates for cobalt and our plan is to produce something between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes per year," Musonda told Reuters.

Mopani would later ramp up production of cobalt, which the company historically mined as a by-product of copper, Musonda added.

"We have some material sitting on the surface. It was mined already as part of the copper ores but it could not be processed because the cobalt price was too low."

Copper production in Zambia dropped to 800,696 tonnes last year from 837,996 tonnes the year before, data obtained from the nation's statistics agency showed in March. read more

Cobalt production also dropped to 247 tonnes last year from 316 tonnes a year earlier, according to the Zambia Statistics Agency.

ZCCM-IH last year agreed to buy Glencore's majority stake in Mopani Copper Mines in a $1.5 billion deal funded by debt and said it would seek a new investor.

The sale followed Glencore's attempt to suspend operations at Mopani due to low copper prices and COVID-19 disruptions, prompting a government threat to revoke the company's licences.

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Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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