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China group to make battery-grade nickel and cobalt from recycling

A file photo of a man carrying bags of copper and cobalt in Congo. Photo: Reuters.

Changing energy priorities worldwide have opened up opportunities as power grids decarbonise and demand grows for battery raw materials


(AF) Chinese battery materials producer GEM said on Tuesday it would invest 310 million yuan ($48 million) in a project to make 100,000 tonnes per year of battery-grade nickel and cobalt from recycling in central China’s Hubei province, as demand for the elements has soared as part of a global energy transition.

The investment comes as the company looks to roughly triple its annual battery precursor production to over 400,000 tonnes by 2025 to meet burgeoning demand from the electric-vehicle sector.

The project in the city of Jingmen, where GEM has an existing recycling base, will produce three battery-grade chemicals – nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and cobalt chloride – in equal measure, GEM said in a stock exchange filing.

The company, which is also pursuing a smelting project in Indonesia that will make battery-grade nickel and cobalt, said the Jingmen plant would take nine months to construct, with the funds to come from its own coffers and from bank loans.

Changing energy priorities worldwide have opened up opportunities as power grids decarbonise and demand grows for battery raw materials like nickel and cobalt – as well as lithium and copper, accountancy firm PwC said in a report.

The world’s biggest miners should consider developing smaller deposits to make the most of the commodities expected to be in demand during the transition to cleaner energy production, the firm urged.


The world’s cobalt supply will need to double by 2030 from current levels to meet surging demand for the key ingredient used in electric vehicles, commodity trading house Trafigura’s head of nickel and cobalt trading said.

“We estimate that we need twice as much (cobalt) supply by 2030,” Socrates Economou told an online conference hosted by the Financial Times.

Economou added that artisanal supply of cobalt, which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be likely to reach 10,000 tonnes compared to 20,000 tonnes in 2019.

Total supply of cobalt in 2020 was 126,500 tonnes, according to consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

Global demand of nickel used in batteries is expected to rise 18% this year from 2020, backed by strong sales of electric-vehicles (EVs) in China, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Japan’s biggest nickel smelter, said.

Sumitomo Metal, which supplies cathode materials for Panasonic lithium ion batteries that are used in Tesla EVs, said demand of nickel used in rechargeable batteries will increase to 228,000 tonnes in 2021 from 193,000 tonnes in 2020.

With reporting by Reuters



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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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