China Metallurgical Group, a subsidiary of diversified metals producer Minmetals, has launched a new production plant for nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) ternary cathode material and scandium oxide in Caofeidian, Tangshan in north China's Hebei province.
The plant, the first phase of the whole project, is designed to produce 40,000 t/yr of 6-2-2 NCM and 20 t/yr of high-purity scandium oxide. The company began site construction in September 2017 and started pilot production in November this year.
The second phase will include 20,000 t/yr of 8-1-1 NCM and 20 t/yr of high-purity scandium oxide.
Minmetals' Ramu cobalt-nickel mine in Papua New Guinea will provide feedstock supply to the project. Minmetals launched the mine in 2015, with a reserve of 143mn t of laterite ore.
China Metallurgical Group has partnered with domestic electric vehicle manufacturer BYD and battery producer Guoxuan Hi-tech to develop the project.
NCM lithium-ion batteries are expected to become the mainstream power source for new energy vehicles (NEVs) in the next 20 years. Global NCM demand is projected to reach 4mn t/yr in 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 32pc from 2020.
Technological advances have allowed large-scale Chinese producers such as Ronbay, Beijing Easpring and Tianjin BTR to start producing 8-1-1 and 6-2-2 NCM ternary materials to reduce their cobalt costs and increase energy density.
Beijing Easpring aims to raise its total capacity for ternary cathode material to 50,000 t/yr in 2020 from 16,000 t/yr now. Huayou Cobalt is building a new production plant with 150,000 t/yr of capacity in Zhejiang province.
Demand for cathode materials with a high nickel content has risen since the Chinese government's move in February to cancel or cut subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs) with ranges below 300km and increase the subsidy for more expensive longer-range vehicles. Higher nickel content in NCM material can improve an EV's driving range.
China sold 1,030,000 and produced 1,054,000 NEVs in January-November, up by 68pc and 63.6pc respectively from a year earlier. The country is expected to exceed its initial target of producing 1mn EVs in 2018, following rises in output over the past few months