Lithium de­mand for e-car bat­ter­ies is charg­ing ahead

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By REN XIAOJIN renx­i­ao­jin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

De­mand for lithium bat­ter­ies will con­tinue to rise as the world switches to elec­tric cars.

This in turn will fuel the economies of Chi­nese re­gions with saline ar­eas hold­ing large lithium re­serves, in­dus­try lead­ers re­vealed.

Led by China, home to 40 per­cent of global elec­tric ve­hi­cle sales last year, the world’s pas­sion for new en­ergy cars is heat­ing up.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, the num­ber of e-cars on the roads glob­ally has dou­bled to two mil­lion last year from 2015 and could soar to be­tween 40 to 70 mil­lion by 2025.

Growth has sparked a surge for lithium sup­plies at home and abroad, as lithium car­bon­ate is used to power most elec­tric cars.

“Lithium pro­duc­tion has been ex­pand­ing over the past two years,” said Ma Pei­hua, a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial and former vice-gover­nor of Qing­hai prov­ince, which is one of China’s big­gest saline re­gions.

Qing­hai Lake is the big­gest salt wa­ter lake in China, and the sec­ond largest in the world. “The coun­try’s an­nual con­sump­tion of lithium com­pound is 12 met­ric tons,” said Ma, who is also vice-chair­man of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence.

“Half is used in the pro­duc­tion of bat­ter­ies, and the ra­tio may in­crease to 66 per­cent in the fu­ture,” Ma added.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by China EV100, a Chi­nese elec­tric ve­hi­cle re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, global de­mand for lithium chem­i­cal prod­ucts in­creased to 182,000 tons last year, up 14 per­cent com­pared to 2015.

The re­port re­vealed that 20 per­cent went to man­u­fac­tur­ing car bat­ter­ies, up 8 per­cent from 2015. You Sangyul, pres­i­dent of Ningbo Jinhe Lithium Bat­tery Mar­tial Co Ltd, said global sales for lithium bat­ter­ies topped $20 bil­lion last year and would con­tinue to grow at a sus­tain­able pace un­til 2020.

You stressed that some coun­tries had par­tic­u­larly am­bi­tious tar­gets for elec­tric cars. He said In­dia and Nor­way aimed for com­plete au­to­mo­bile elec­tri­fi­ca­tion by 2030. He also added that the price of bat­tery grade lithium in China jumped to $20,000 per ton in 2016, al­most tripling in one year.

The thriv­ing mar­ket has fu­eled China’s ma­jor saline ar­eas such as Qing­hai, the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion and Sichuan and Hu­nan prov­inces.

Ac­cord­ing to China EV100, the coun­try has es­ti­mated lithium re­serves of 3.2 mil­lion tons. Those are the sec­ond big­gest re­serves after Chile and ac­counts for 22 per­cent of the global to­tal.

“Qing­hai is gear­ing up its lithium out­put,” Ma said. “For ex­am­ple, Qing­hai Dong­tai Ji­naier Lithium Re­source Co is dou­bling its ca­pac­ity by adding an­other man­u­fac­tur­ing line of 10,000 tons in an­nual out­put by the be­gin­ning of 2018.”

Ma­jor elec­tric bat­tery mak­ers are also ex­pand­ing into China’s lithium re­source strong­hold.

He Long, vice-pres­i­dent of Chi­nese auto maker BYD Auto Co Ltd, said the world’s sec­ond big­gest elec­tric bat­tery seller will start to look for lithium pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity in Qing­hai next year. It was also look­ing to boost its over­all an­nual bat­tery pro­duc­tion in the next two years.

“Cur­rently our bat­tery (pro­duc­tion) ca­pac­ity has reached 16 GWh and we will in­stall 10 GWh more in Qing­hai by 2019,” He said.

But in­dus­try ex­perts be­lieve China’s lithium re­serves can not meet the surg­ing do­mes­tic de­mand from elec­tric car pro­duc­tion.

“In the past few decades we have de­vel­oped so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy in lithium ex­trac­tion,” said Gao Yuan, pres­i­dent of Pulead Tech­nol­ogy In­dus­try Co Ltd.

“We need to map out a global strat­egy with gov­ern­ment sup­port for the saline ar­eas with ad­e­quate tech­nol­ogy and cap­i­tal sup­port, like they have in South Amer­ica,” Gao added.

LIANG ZHEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Work­ers op­er­ate on the lithium bat­tery pro­duc­tion line in Changx­ing county, Zhe­jiang prov­ince,

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