Lithium-ion industry to take centre stage in next five years

20th April 2018 By: Simone Liedtke - Creamer Media Social Media Editor & Senior Writer

JOHANNESBURG ( – At least 12 lithium and six cobalt transactions have been closed between downstream manufacturers and mining companies since 2016, signalling a changing trend in procurement strategy.

This, commodity research consultancy Roskill said in a statement on Friday, shows that the lithium-ion (Li-ion) industry has developed rapidly in recent years with the advent of mass-produced electric vehicles, with predictions that the industry’s requirement for lithium and graphite could increase fivefold within the next decade.

Demand for other materials, like nickel and cobalt, are expected to increase ninefold and fourfold, respectively, reflecting changes in the cathode chemistry.

There is now a significant wave of interest in battery raw material supply security, mainly from Asia, to underpin the growth of Li-ion battery production over the next decade, Roskill noted.

“With an increasing amount of Li-ion battery raw material refining and processing centred in China, and it being front-and-centre of Li-ion demand growth, Chinese Li-ion value chain participants have turned to Australia, Africa and South America to secure the feedstock necessary for their downstream requirements,” the consultancy said on Friday.

While some cathode manufacturers, battery makers and even automotive original-equipment manufacturers, closed or tried to close several lithium supply deals in 2017, cobalt- and nickel-related transactions seem to be taking over this year, perhaps with the realisation that future cobalt and nickel supply is not as secure as lithium and graphite supply.

“The recent spree of deals by Korean companies suggests they are now becoming aware, and while Japan has only dabbled to-date, it may be next; meanwhile European automakers have been hot on raw material [reports] but have yet to strike an agreement.”

In the years to come, more supply agreements between downstream and upstream companies are to be expected, with urgency on the cobalt side, Roskill stated.

Given the price volatility of this material and its impact on end-product costs, cobalt constitutes a risk factor that most Li-ion stakeholders will try to mitigate by closing long-term deals with miners.

According to Roskill estimates, the shift from nickel:cobalt:manganese (NCM) 6:2:2 to NCM 8:1:1 realises a 20% cost reduction at the cathode-level, because of the higher specific use of lower-priced nickel, but the switch could be prolonged while performance and safety concerns are overcome.

“Either way, more than 1.6-million plug-in cars are expected to hit the road this year, with another 4-million by 2020 and more than 15-million by 2025 according to automakers’ announcements, along with the considerable demand for raw materials that these figures will bring,” the consultancy concluded.