[Insights] Significant Impact of Chinese Export Restrictions, Material Alternatives Yet to Yield Immediate Results

With China intensifying export controls, Japanese companies relying on crucial battery and semiconductor materials manufactured in China are contemplating alternative solutions. They are actively seeking materials sources to achieve supply diversification.

TrendForce’s insight:

1. Alternative Solution Cannot be Translated into Immediate Success

While countries like Japan and South Korea have swiftly initiated strategies to find alternative solutions, the majority are still in the evaluation, research, or testing stages, unable to provide immediate assistance.

Even if alternative graphite production sources outside of China, such as in North America or Australia, are identified, it is likely to increase manufacturing costs, thereby impacting the selling price or profit performance of electric vehicles.

2. Back to Negotiation with Chinese Manufacturers

The post-export control scenario may accentuate the cost advantage of Chinese battery manufacturers, influencing the effectiveness of various protective measures taken by Europe and the United States to counter Chinese electric vehicles.

Consequently, countries may ultimately realize that returning to the negotiation table with China is more practical than going through a prolonged process, aligning with China’s primary objective.

3. Material Edge Won’t Last Forever

The continuous export restrictions on critical materials by China may encourage countries to persist in developing alternative solutions. For instance, OEMs like Tesla, GM, and Stellantis are actively investing in research on rare-earth-free motors to reduce dependency on Chinese rare earths.

While currently constrained by battery material technology, graphite remains the highest-value anode material. Yet, numerous companies are also exploring anodes with higher energy density, such as silicon oxide (SiO) and lithium metal (Li Metal).

Therefore, China must recognize that material advantages may not be permanent, and the core lies in the ability for technological iteration.

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(Photo credit: Pixabay)


[News] Chinese Battery Firms Propel Global Expansion: At least five Major Announcements in One Week

According to a recent report by itdcw, several Chinese new energy companies unveiled ambitious overseas expansion plans during the last week of September, with the highest investment commitment reaching almost a billion dollars.

This development comes as global demand for batteries skyrockets, driven by the rapid growth of the overseas new energy automotive and energy storage industries. Chinese companies in the new energy industry chain are strategically positioning themselves across the globe to better serve the expanding oversea markets.

Five Companies Announce Overseas Expansion in a Week

The hustle week could tracked back to a significant announcement from Ningbo Shanshan Co., LTD on September 27th. Their intention to establish a project company in Finland, aiming to invest in the construction of an integrated base capable of producing 100,000 tons of lithium-ion battery negative electrode materials annually. The total investment for this venture is not expected to exceed 1.28 billion euros.

On the very same day, a subsidiary of Lopal Technology signed a MOU with LG Energy Solution, Ltd. This agreement outlines their collaborative venture to operate a cathode material factory in Indonesia, further expanding the global footprint of Chinese battery companies.

XTC New Energy Materials also made a significant move on September 26th, announcing their plans to establish Joint Venture in France. This strategic collaboration with the French company Orano is set to build a production line with an annual output of 40,000 tons of ternary cathode materials, bolstering their presence in the European market.

Not to be outdone, CATL unveiled their investment plans in Indonesia on September 25th. Their vision includes the construction of Indonesia’s first project for the production of 30,000 tons of high-nickel power battery ternary precursor materials in the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, Central Sulawesi Province. The total investment for this endeavor is approximately 109.6 million RMB.

Additionally, South Korea’s LG Chem is gearing up with Huayou Cobalt on September 24th. Together, they are planning to establish an electric vehicle battery material factory in Morocco, slated to commence production in 2026. Their target is an annual output of 50,000 tons of lithium iron phosphate cathode materials.

Not Random: Calculated Choice to Overseas Moves for Expansion

China’s surplus battery production capacity and skyrocketing prices in recent times have left the battery industry chain market sluggish. This has prompted companies to explore overseas markets as a natural expansion strategy. The EU’s new battery regulations and the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act have set new standards and prerequisites for Chinese battery industry chain enterprises venturing abroad.

Europe’s appeal stems from its stringent EU environmental regulations, which have been pushing for the development of electric vehicles. Hungary’s strategic location has positioned it as a major export production hub for renowned automakers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. Its prime geographical location and excellent transportation links make it an ideal gateway to the entire European market.

Indonesia’s selection is attributed to its abundant resources, particularly nickel, of which it holds a quarter of the world’s reserves. Moreover, Indonesia ranks high in global cobalt production. This makes it an attractive destination for battery companies and upstream material enterprises, ensuring a stable supply of essential raw materials.

South Korea is appealing primarily due to its opportunities for collaboration with local companies. Battery material enterprises often find the initial capital requirements and other aspects of independent overseas expansion daunting. With recent international policy changes, Chinese counterparts are favoring collaborative approaches to establish a presence in South Korea.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that expanding abroad, while offering access to more overseas market resources, also amplifies risks and pressures borne by these enterprises. This strategic move will test their adaptability and resilience in navigating the complexities of global markets.

In summary, Chinese battery companies are aggressively expanding into overseas markets to meet the surging global demand for batteries, with Europe, Indonesia, and South Korea serving as key strategic locations. While the challenges are significant, these companies are poised to make a significant impact on the global battery industry.

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(Image and Source: Signing Ceremony between XTC and Orano – © Orano / Cyril Crespeau)


[NEWS] LG Energy Solution to Supply Toyota with 20GWh of High-Nickel NCMA Battery Modules Annually from 2025

Source to LG Energy Solution, LG Energy Solution, and Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (Toyota) today announced that they have signed a supply agreement for lithium-ion battery modules to be used in Toyota battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that will be assembled in the United States.

Under the contract, LG Energy Solution will supply automotive battery modules at an annual capacity of 20GWh starting from 2025. The battery modules, consisting of high-nickel NCMA (nickel, cobalt, manganese, aluminum) pouch-type cells, will be manufactured in LG Energy Solution’s Michigan facility.

The innovative power solutions will support Toyota’s expanding line of BEVs, part of its multi-pathway product strategy, including a new BEV model that will be assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in 2025. They will also help further Toyota’s vehicle electrification initiatives, as it aspires to offer 30 BEV models globally across its Toyota and Lexus brand nameplates and produce up to 3.5 million BEVs annually by 2030.

“At Toyota, our goal is to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible, as fast as possible,” said Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa, president and CEO of Toyota Motor North America. “Having secure supplies of lithium-ion batteries at scale with a long-term relationship to support Toyota’s multi-pathway approach and growth plans for BEVs in North America is critical to achieving our manufacturing and carbon reduction plans. Working with LG Energy Solution, we are excited to be able to offer products that will provide the performance and quality our customers expect.”

To fulfill the supply agreement, LG Energy Solution will invest KRW 4 trillion (approximately USD 3 billion) in its Michigan facility to establish new production lines for battery cells and modules exclusively for Toyota, with completion slated for 2025. Initially, the battery modules will go to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky to be assembled into battery packs and equipped onto BEVs.

The agreement brings together LG Energy Solution’s proven capabilities in manufacturing top-quality battery cells and modules at scale, and Toyota’s advanced technologies in battery packs to create a product using LG Energy Solution’s innovative power solution which optimizes battery system performance, providing peace of mind and further enhancing the BEV customer experience. LG Energy Solution continues to enhance battery safety, including with respect to its thermal management for its high-nickel NCMA batteries.

“We’re excited to have Toyota, the best-selling global automaker, as our new customer. With our 30 years of experience in lithium-ion batteries, we will provide innovative power solutions to support Toyota’s push further into battery electric vehicles,” said Youngsoo Kwon, CEO of LG Energy Solution. “The agreement also presents another big opportunity for us to strengthen our production capacity in North America, thereby bringing more real-life, large-scale progress toward electrification in the region.”

The landmark deal represents LG Energy Solution’s largest single supply agreement secured outside of joint venture agreements. The company now supplies its batteries to all the top five global automakers[1]. Based on its market leadership, the company has eight battery manufacturing facilities currently operating or under construction in North America and continues to expand both its production network and supply chain in the region. (Image credit: LG)


[NEWS] Continued Lithium Price Decline Benefits Battery and Auto Makers

Source to China Times, LCE prices in China have persistently declined, with the average price for battery-grade LCE on the 26th standing at CNY 178,500 per ton (CNY is used throughout, same as above), marking a decrease of CNY 2,000 compared to the previous day. Prices remain below the significant threshold of CNY 200,000 per ton, extending the weakness observed since September. The market suggested that the profit distribution pattern within the industry chain has shifted noticeably from upstream to downstream.

Based on TrendForce’s research, the sluggish demand in the consumer electronics segment in August forced battery cell suppliers to focus on liquidating existing inventories. TrendForce indicates that the ongoing drop in the prices of lithium salts and cobalt [II, III] oxide shows no signs of bottoming out. Manufacturers, therefore, seem hesitant to stock up, opting for a “business as usual” approach to production. A downward trajectory of LCO battery prices seems likely through September. 

Weak demand in both the power and energy storage sectors has put pressure on lithium salt prices, which spiraled down to an average of CNY 230,000/ton in August—a steep QoQ dive of 20%. TrendForce warns that prices may plunge to less than CNY 200,000/ton, making buyers increasingly skittish about making purchases. However, there’s a glimmer of hope: suppliers have initiated production cutbacks, providing a potential floor for lithium salt prices to rebound from as we approach September.

According to TMTPOST, as lithium salt is an upstream component of the lithium battery industry chain, fluctuations in its prices affect the profitability landscape of the entire chain. With the sharp decline in lithium salt prices, the profit margins of lithium salt producers have been notably compressed. Taking the industry leader, Tianqi Lithium, as an example, its revenue for 1H23 increased by 73.64% to CNY 24.823 billion, but its net profit decreased sharply by 37.52% to CNY 6.452 billion. The key driver behind this decline in performance is the fall in lithium prices, which resulted in an 8.9 percentage point year-on-year decrease in the company’s gross profit margin for lithium compounds and derivative products, dropping to 78.64%.

Investors pointed out that as upstream lithium prices decrease, the prices of lithium battery raw materials such as LFP will also correspondingly decrease, thereby reducing the cost of lithium batteries. For automakers, this translates into lower production costs and improved profit margins.

The decline in lithium raw material prices has led to improved profitability for battery manufacturers and automakers. Taking CATL as an example, the revenue growth rate of its power battery systems for 1H23 exceeded the cost growth rate, resulting in a gross profit margin of 20.35%, an increase of 5.31 percentage points year-on-year. (Image credit: Tianqi Lithium)


Global Lithium Production Forecast to Reach 1.21 Million Tons LCE in 2023, US Lithium Producer ALB Leads with a 17% Market Share

Australian mining company, Liontown Resources Ltd., has just announced it’s agreed to a buyout proposal of AUD 6.6 billion (USD 4.3 billion) by US lithium producer Albemarle Corp (ALB). TrendForce’s latest “2023 Global Li-Ion Battery Industry Chain Market Supply and Demand Report,” indicates that global lithium production in 2022 hit approximately 860,000 tons of Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE). ALB, with its diverse lithium portfolio (spodumene, lithium salt, and tolling), accounted for over 180,000 tons of LCE. Predictions for 2023 spotlight a global lithium production reaching 1.21 million tons LCE, and ALB is set to churn out 200,000 tons of that, holding firmly onto the lead with its 17% market share.

TrendForce reports that ALB has strategically secured the planet’s most abundant, high-quality, and cost-efficient reserves of lithium salt lake and minerals across regions like Chile, Australia, and the US. Moreover, when it comes to lithium refinement, ALB emerges as the global titan with the world’s greatest lithium salt production capacity. As it stands, ALB’s annual production capacity for lithium hydroxide reaches 110,000 tons, accounting for 23% of the world’s entire production.

Liontown, a key supplier of Australia’s battery minerals, holds the reins to two major hard rock lithium deposits: Kathleen Valley and Buldania. These areas boast lithium reserves of 156 million tons (5.4 million tons LCE) and 14.9 million tons (370,000 tons LCE), respectively. As Kathleen Valley gears up for completion by the end of 2023, its inaugural production phase is set to roll out by 2Q24, targeting an annual yield of 500,000 tons of lithium spodumene concentrate. And that’s just the start, with plans to elevate this figure to a whopping 700,000 tons annually. On the other hand, the Buldania project is still in its nascent stage, focused on exploration and surveying.

With ambitions to acquire Australian miner Liontown, ALB set to command the world’s largest lithium resources, TrendForce believes.

Should ALB’s acquisition of Liontown materialize, it would cement its control of global lithium resources and bolster its lithium salt production framework. Yet, ALB isn’t the sole player in this vast industry. Major lithium producers, including SQM, Tianqi Lithium, Ganfeng Lithium, Yahua Industrial, Chengxin Lithium, and Livent, are fervently ramping up their production capabilities in lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide.

Lithium, the backbone of modern tech, is set to see its global demand skyrocket. TrendForce’s insights reveal a bustling 2022 with around 40 lithium mining projects worldwide. After 2025, the number of projects in production will increase to a staggering 100+. To safeguard their global dominance and sharpen their competitive edge, lithium chemical producers are strategically aligning with upstream lithium miners to secure lithium resources. Case in point: Livent’s recent merger with Allkem in May of this year and ALB’s designs on Liontown. This momentum signifies a trend toward a more consolidated global lithium resource landscape, with mergers and acquisitions becoming the norm in upcoming years.

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