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[Interview] Battery materials

EcoPro BM to build battery materials plants in US, Europe

Cathode materials production to exceed earlier target of 290,000 tons by 2025 on rapid battery demand growth

By Oct 21, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

EcoPro’s founder and chairman Lee Dong-che
EcoPro’s founder and chairman Lee Dong-che

EcoPro BM Co., South Korea’s top cathode producer, plans to set up factories in the US and Europe to expand its business in the global market.

“We will start construction of cathode plants in the US and Eastern Europe next year. We will strengthen strategic alliances with Samsung SDI Co. in Europe and SK On in the US,” Lee Dong-che, the founder and chairman of EcoPro, the holding company of EcoPro BM, told The Korea Economic Daily in an exclusive interview on Oct. 21.

IN TALKS WITH GOVERNMENTS ON LOCATIONS

EcoPro BM is scheduled to unveil a plan for the factory in Eastern Europe next month.

“The Eastern Europe plant will supply most of the products to Samsung SDI,” Lee said. Samsung SDI is currently operating a battery plant in Göd, Hungary.

“A number of European countries are offering various incentives to attract the factory. Hungary is a strong candidate, but it is difficult to immediately disclose a specific location because we are in talks with many countries,” Lee said.

In the US, the company is negotiating with four or five states, according to Lee. SK On would be a main client of the US plant. In November 2020, EcoPro BM already established a unit in Georgia, US, where SK On is building a battery complex.

“We are actively considering other states in addition to Georgia. We plan to decide on the site early next year at the latest,” he said.

The company has enough money to set up those overseas plants, Lee added.

TO PRODUCE MORE THAN EARLIER TARGET

Cathode materials production is expected to top the company’s earlier target thanks to rapid growth in the global EV battery market, Lee said.

Earlier this year, EcoPro BM said it planned to raise its cathode materials output to 290,000 tons by 2025 from the current 60,000 tons.

“Once the plants in Europe and the US operate, production in 2025 will far exceed our earlier plan,” Lee said, as the company needs to aggressively expand capacity to meet rapidly increasing EV battery demand.

NEW KOREA PLANT TO START MASS PRODUCTION AROUND END-2021

In South Korea, EcoPro has been building a cathode materials industry complex including cathode materials production and battery recycling since 2017.

EcoPro EM, a joint venture between EcoPro BM and Samsung SDI, held a completion ceremony for a cathode materials plant in Pohang, 374 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Oct. 21.
EcoPro EM's cathode materials plant in Pohang, South Korea
EcoPro EM's cathode materials plant in Pohang, South Korea

The 49,000-square-meter factory with an annual capacity of 36,000 tons of nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) cathode materials, enough for 400,000 electric vehicles, is set to start mass production around the end of this year. All of the materials from the plant will be supplied to Samsung SDI since it manufactures batteries with NCA cathode materials. SK On and LG Energy Solution mainly produce batteries with nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) cathode materials.

But Lee doubted if EcoPro BM would resume supply to LG Energy Solution. Its business with LG Energy Solution was cut off in 2012 when EcoPro BM tried to supply materials to Samsung SDI.

“We do not have a plan to supply for the time being, considering our eternal partner Samsung SDI,” Lee stressed.

Meanwhile, Lee unveiled plans to list EcoPro’s subsidiaries such as EcoPro Innovation and EcoPro CnG. EcoPro Innovation produces battery-grade lithium hydroxide, while EcoPro CnG is in charge of the battery recycling business.

“We plan IPOs in 2024 to raise money for additional investment,” he said.

Write to Kyung-Min Kang at kkm1026@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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