Western Australia to produce cathode materials in trial production

Construction has begun on a manufacturing pilot project to see battery-grade nickel, cobalt and manganese for precursor battery cathode materials (PCAM) in Perth. The facility is expected to be completed in early 2022 and is one of a number of developments that will look to establish Western Australia (WA) as a materials supplier to the growing battery manufacturing industry.

October 21, 2021

With its significant mineral reserves, WA is looking to become an important materials supplier as lithium-ion battery manufacturers continue to scale up – to supply both the stationary and Electric Vehicle (EV) battery makers. USD$13.8 million has been invested in a high quality nickel, cobalt and manganese pilot production facility for battery cathodes. The investment is a combination of cash and “in kind” in investment.

The cathode is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, allowing the high powered charging and discharging of lithium ion batteries. It can be one of the most costly battery components and its quality crucial for battery performance and safety. A Canadian study, from McGill University, found that the cathode can account for up to 40% of lithium-ion battery cell production costs.

WA is hoping to establish processing facilities for key cathode materials under the Cathode Precursor Production project. The WA government is contributing $673,000 to the project. The funding is part of a $9.9 million the WA government is investing in cathode manufacturing projects.

“Western Australia already exports all the minerals needed to make a battery but now we have the exciting opportunity to move into the next step of manufacturing these materials,” said Bill Johnston, the WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum. Johnston is also responsible for the WA energy portfolio.

Once the manufacturing facility is completed, an 18 month trial will be carried out to assess its feasibility and competitiveness. A 2020 report found that WA has a “once in a generation opportunity” to develop cathode material production capabilities.

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The cathode precursor project compliments miner BHP’s Nickel West facility that will produce nickel sulphate in Kwinana, south of Perth. The refinery was opened this month.

Lithium hydroxide plants are also under construction in the state, which the state government says indicates activity “along the battery value chain.”

Vanadium electrolyte manufacturing is also being pursued in WA, to support the production of vanadium redox flow batteries.

“Diversifying our economy and increasing our activity in mineral processing and advanced manufacturing are key objectives,“ added Johnston.

A report published earlier this month made the case for Australia to leverage its mineral wealth by creating battery manufacturing “hubs”.

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