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China's lithium hydroxide exports soar on EV demand

12 Feb 2018 16:46 GMT
China's lithium hydroxide exports soar on EV demand

Beijing, 12 February (Argus) — Chinese exports of lithium hydroxide surged last year on growing demand from manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

Hydroxide exports reached a record 19,384t in 2017, up by 97pc from 9,835t in 2016, customs data show.

The average export price was $12.17/kg, down from $14.05/kg a year earlier, as a result of higher supply.

Japan was by far the largest importer, taking 12,021t, a rise of 272pc on 2016 and accounting for 62pc of China's total exports. South Korea imported 3,800t in 2017, up by 29pc year on year, and Germany imported 874t, up by 24pc from 2016.

China typically imports lithium carbonate for the production of battery cathode materials and exports hydroxide, which is used in ceramics and industrial lubricants in addition to batteries. Chinese exports of lithium carbonate moved up by just 8.5pc year on year to 1,496t in 2017, with the average price of $21.41/kg little changed from $21.27/kg in 2016.

Japan raised its imports by 13.3pc year on year to 979t, accounting for 65.48pc of China's total imports. Germany and South Korea purchased 199t and 98t respectively.

Growing global electric vehicle production has boosted demand for lithium salts, which are widely used in lithium-ion batteries. Large Chinese producers including Ganfeng, Tianqi, Qinghai Salt Lake and Jiangxi Special Motor have been expanding their capacities, and are seeking more overseas shipments as the domestic market is nearly saturated.

Global electric vehicle production is estimated to have reached 1.2mn units in 2017 including 794,000t produced in China, which is on a target to produce 1mn units this year.

January sales increased by 480pc to 32,000 units from 5,423 units in the same month last year. Electric vehicle output and sales declined in January 2017, because of a reduction in government subsidies. Beijing will unveil a new support scheme this month to encourage the development of electric vehicles with longer ranges.