Argus Media Ltd.

Argus Media Ltd.

Asia seen far ahead of Europe, US in EV batteries


Source: Argus Media Ltd.

Perth -- China, and to a lesser extent South Korea and Japan, look set to dominate the growing electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing market for the foreseeable future, with the US and Europe criticised for doing little to prioritise investment in the sector.

'It is frustrating that the EU is not doing more. What's more, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from the EU have invested 10 times more in manufacturing capacity in China than in capacity at home,' said the operating agent for the IEA's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology Collaboration Programme Bert Witkamp at a battery minerals conference in Perth, Western Australia (WA).

'Most electric vehicles are going to be built where they are going to be used, so the key question is what is the ownership of these manufacturing facilities. Europe and the US need battery manufacturing in their regions, but who is going to own the plants?'

South Korean companies already have battery manufacturing operations in Europe.

The European Battery Alliance has been formed to promote clean energy transition and the competitiveness of the automotive industry. Comprising companies such as Saft, Siemens, Solvay and Manz, it is aiming to produce lithium-ion batteries from the early 2020s to offer at least some competition to Asian battery producers.

While the majority of electric vehicle manufacturers will continue to deal directly with battery manufacturers and not battery raw material suppliers, there are some signs that this may change.

Already China's Great Wall Motors and US-based Tesla have offtake agreements with lithium concentrate producers in WA. Japan's Toyota Tsusho, part of the Toyota Group, has lithium carbonate interests in Argentina and is considering a lithium hydroxide facility in Japan.

'I am aware that some OEMs are looking at recruiting specialists who know a lot about mining and processing of the essential raw materials that go into the making of electric vehicle batteries. This is so they can be well positioned when raw material demand is very strong,' said Australian nickel producer Western Areas managing director Dan Lougher.

Essential raw materials for EV batteries include lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, manganese and some rare earth elements for permanent magnets.

Europe has traditionally been an exporter of vehicles, but this is likely to reduce sharply as a result of the transition to EVs and the growth of Asian vehicle and battery manufacturing operations.

'As the transition to EVs gains momentum you will need to have batteries, cathodes and anodes in the places where the vehicles are made. And this is where China and South Korea in particular will have a big advantage,' Witkamp said.

Few battery technology developments are taking place outside of China and South Korea, and certainly not in Australia that hosts all of the raw materials that go into batteries, said the managing director of Lithium Australia Adrian Griffin, whose company is making raw materials for batteries from mine waste. 'To break the mainly Chinese supply chain stranglehold, the US and the EU will have to devise energy policies that focus on developing their own sources of raw materials to feed into precursors that can back up renewable energy.'

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