With no shortage of manganese expected any time soon, commodities research, consulting, financial advisory CPM Group special adviser and expert in manganese Andrew Zemek believes current global reserves of this ferro-alloy could last up to 325 years at the current rate of production.
This, he says, is substantiated by the fact that manganese is “much more evenly spread around the world” than cobalt and nickel, as it is produced in more than ten countries that are reasonably stable.
Some of these countries include South Africa, Brazil and Australia, meaning that “there is no risk to the security of supply of manganese”.
Further, while electric vehicle (EV) cathode manufacturers do not require as much manganese as cobalt or nickel, they do require a more specialised version of manganese in the form of manganese sulphate, which Zemek says is “a very specialised product”.
“There is no shortage of sulphate but there is a shortage of capacity for high-purity sulphate, which is the critical difference, as most of the sulphate being used today is [being used for] agriculture-related applications,” he points out.
With 90% of the global capacity for production of high-purity manganese sulphate concentrated in China, Zemek is concerned that the world may soon face a similar reliance on China, as is seen with cobalt being largely produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To reduce this risk to the EV industry, Zemek suggests that more projects are required.
A few projects are currently under way, but he warns this increasing pace of supply is “much slower” than the increasing pace of demand from the battery sector, therefore creating a supply deficit.
With China doubling down on increasing its production capacity within the next five to ten years, Zemek notes that no new capacity is expected to come on stream before 2025.
The reason for this, he explains, is that the several new sulphate projects (based in regions like Australia, Europe, North America and Indonesia) are at different stages of development, with a few only recently having achieved their first resource.
Mines and processing plants also still need to be built with approvals from battery makers.
Zemek notes that the supply deficit is the result of manganese having been a “forgotten metal”, with EV makers generally having focused on lithium, cobalt and nickel resources.
“At various battery events, these commodities are listed on the big boards, but nothing is being said about manganese. This is wrong, as it’s been a part of the cathode mix since the beginning,” he stresses.