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Battery materials

Korea Zinc to double battery material output capacity

To build up battery materials value chain utilizing its own nickel, copper and sulfuric acid production

By Nov 24, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Nickel sulfate (Courtesy of KEMCO)
Nickel sulfate (Courtesy of KEMCO)
Korea Zinc Co., the world’s top lead and zinc smelter, plans to double its production capacity of nickel sulfate, a key raw material for cathode materials, to meet increasing demand from secondary battery makers in line with strong growth in the global electric vehicle market.

Korea Energy Materials Co. (KEMCO), Korea Zinc’s affiliate that produces nickel sulfate, has bought 16,000 square meters of land to raise its annual capacity to 80,000-100,000 tons from the current 50,000 tons, according to the smelting industry on Nov. 24.

Nickel sulfate, which is a core ingredient for cathode materials, one of four key materials for lithium-ion batteries, is made by adding sulfuric acid to high purity nickel. It can be directly used for cathode material production without separate processing and battery makers can shorten production procedures.

The capacity expansion aims to increase Korea Zinc’s presence in the global battery markets. The industry has been commercializing high-nickel batteries that increased the proportion of relatively cheap nickel in cathode materials to 90% in order to increase mileage and reduce cost.

The move increased nickel demand. An EV needs about 50-100 kilograms of nickel, so Korea Zinc’s plant with a capacity of 100,000 tons a year will meet the demand for production of 1,000-2,000 EVs.

BATTERY MATERIALS VALUE CHAIN

Korea Zinc has been expanding its business portfolio into the battery materials business, utilizing its main business, smelting.

The company produces 1.5 million tons of sulfuric acid a year by processing sulfurous acid gas emitted from the smelting process. It also has its own nickel smelting technology through a subsidiary Korea Nickel Co. founded in 1987. This led to the establishment of Kemco in 2017. LG Chem Ltd., the parent of EV battery maker LG Energy Solution Ltd., also has a 10% stake in KEMCO.

In March 2020, Korea Zinc set up a copper foil-producing subsidiary KZAM Corp. as it produces copper. It is seeking a joint venture with LG Chem a battery component, in a bid to build a value chain from basic ingredients such as sulfuric acid, nickel and copper to intermediate materials including precursors and copper foil.

Write to Jung-hwan Hwang at jung@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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