Trade curbs spur Chinese battery firms to look overseas

  • : Battery materials, Metals
  • 24/05/17

An increasing number of Chinese battery firms have accelerated their expansions outside China, to meet buoyant overseas demand and to tackle escalating geopolitical curbs.

These curbs include the US' newly announced tariff hikes on China's electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries from 2024 or 2026, and the EU's potential punitive duties on battery EVs originating from China. The US' Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the EU's Critical Raw Material Act have also prompted many Chinese battery material producers to step up their overseas expansions.

China's battery material manufacturer Hunan Zhongke Electric has unveiled a plan to invest no more than 5bn yuan ($692mn) to build a production plant for battery anode material in Morocco, in which some other Chinese firms have also invested in similar projects. The plant has a designed capacity of 100,000 t/yr and will be developed in two phases with 50,000 t/yr each. The firm aims to complete plant construction for each phase in 24 months.

Zhongke is a major battery anode material producer in China with 210,000 t/yr of capacity as of the end of 2023. Its output of anode materials rose to 143,513t in 2023, up by 14pc from 125,460t a year earlier, driven by the country's rising EV sales. It aims to expand overseas sales in the coming years.

Major Chinese copper producer Zhejiang Hailiang also outlined a plan to build a 25,000 t/yr production plant for copper foil used in lithium-ion batteries in Morocco. Construction will take 36 months. "The layout of the Morocco project can help us penetrate into the European and US markets as soon as possible as exports from Morocco are duty free to these markets," Hailiang said. "This will help us avoid any international trade barrier."

Morocco is one of the main destinations for Chinese companies to invest in and build overseas battery component plants given its abundant resources for phosphate, a main chemical compound in a lithium iron phosphate battery, and its free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. It is also a major cobalt metal producing country outside China, with cobalt being a critical mineral used in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries.

Major Chinese battery material producer EVE Energy is on track to develop a production project for energy storage batteries in Malaysia. It will establish a subsidiary EVE Energy Malaysia Energy Storage to develop this project to meet Malaysia's energy storage battery demand, although it has not disclosed the capacity, construction schedules and launch dates.

The plant is the second phase of EVE's new energy products development in Malaysia. It in August 2023 started building a plant for cylindrical batteries mainly used in electric two-wheelers and electric tools in the southeast Asian country. The firm said the US' new tariff hikes will not affect its business because it had planned the Malaysia projects for consumer batteries and energy storage in advance, and these projects will support shipments to US consumers by 2026.

New US tariff hikes

US president Joe Biden's administration announced on 14 May that the tariff on lithium-ion EV batteries will immediately increase to 25pc, while the tariff on all other lithium-ion batteries is set to increase to 25pc in 2026, both from the current rate of 7.5pc. This is likely to trigger more Chinese battery companies to increase their overseas investments to avoid the tax, according to industry participants.

The US' tariff hikes have drawn strong criticism from China. "Politicising and instrumenting economic and trade issues is typical political manipulation," said the country's ministry of commerce. "The Section 301 tariff hikes goes against President Biden's promise of 'not seeking to contain China's development' or 'not seeking to break the chain of decoupling from China'. The US should immediately correct its wrongful actions and cancel the tariffs. China will take 'resolute" measures to safeguard its own rights and interests'."

Chinese battery firms' investments in Morocco
CompanyProductsCapacityLaunch dates
CNGRCAM precursors, LFP, black mass120,000 t/yr, 60,000 t/yr, 30,000 t/yr4Q, 2024
BTRCAM50,000 t/yrN/A
Hunan ZhongkeAnode material100,000 t/yrin 24 months
Huayou Cobalt/LGLFP50,000 t/yrin 2026
Huayou Cobalt/LGLithium salts52,000 t/yrN/A
Sichuan Yahua/LGLithium hydroxideN/AN/A
HailiangLi-ion battery copper foil25,000 t/yrin 36 months

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