South Korean company Posco has started producing high-purity nickel for electric car battery cells. The factory in Gwangyang is expected to reach an annual nickel production of 20,000 tons by 2023, enough for 500,000 electric vehicles.
The factory itself is operated by SNNC, a subsidiary of Posco. A wet refining process will increase the nickel content of the final product to 99.9 per cent – the starting material contains around 75 per cent nickel. To achieve this, iron is removed from the nickel mats supplied using a process developed by Posco.
The South Korean steel producer Posco has been investing for some time in the production of battery materials and their precursors in order to become more independent of the steel market. Posco says it wants to secure the value chain from raw material to the battery.
The high-purity nickel produced in Gwangyang will then be further processed at the same site: A plant for the production of cathode materials is also located there, which, as announced in February, is to be expanded to a capacity of 100,000 tons per year by 2023. In addition, Posco had announced in April that it would also build a factory for the extraction of lithium hydroxide in Gwangyang – which should also secure the production of cathode materials.
As reported in July, another factory for cathode materials is planned in the coastal city of Pohang, which is to have an annual capacity of 60,000 tons. Just last week, Posco announced plans to build a plant for cathode materials and one for other precursors in China. Both plants are scheduled to come on stream in 2023.
The price of nickel has risen sharply in part because of the surging demand for electric car batteries. In its statement, Posco refers to the market research institute ‘WoodMac’, according to whose forecast nickel demand worldwide will increase by 23 per cent per year, which will lead to a shortage after 2025. Some automakers are therefore relying in parallel on nickel-free LFP batteries. However, nickel enables a higher energy density of the battery.
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