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Arcadium witnesses firm January-March lithium demand

  • : Battery materials, Metals
  • 24/05/08

US-based Arcadium Lithium said demand was "quite strong" during January-March despite the bearish tone at the start of the year, while acknowledging weaker short-term lithium demand compared with previous forecasts.

"Market demand was actually quite strong and certainly not reflective of some of the ‘doomsday' scenarios," said Arcadium chief executive Paul Graves with its first-quarter results, citing still growing electric vehicle (EV) sales globally and in China. Arcadium is the merged entity of Australian lithium firm Allkem and US lithium producer Livent, which completed their merger earlier this year.

Global EV sales during January-March were up by around 25pc to over 3mn units, according to the IEA, mainly driven by China. China's new energy vehicle production and sales for the quarter rose by 28pc and 32pc from a year earlier to 2.114mn and 2.089mn units respectively, according to China Association of Automobile Manufacturers data.

Expectations for EV sales in China are even higher in the second quarter partly because of "new economic incentives", said Graves, likely referring to China's new automobile trade-in subsidies that has boosted the prices of some battery feedstock metals.

Some industry analysts opted to lower their short-term demand forecasts to account for the higher recent sales mix of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), Graves said, as sales of battery EVs (BEVs) seem to be losing ground.

But Graves countered this by stating that lower BEV sales, which he concedes are expected to be lower by on average 20pc globally in 2024 and 2025 compared with forecasts a year ago, will lead to lower lithium demand that will largely be made up by demand from PHEVs and non-automotive such as stationary energy storage. Arcadium predicts only around 5pc lower demand in terms of GWh in 2024 and 2025 compared with previous forecasts, with demand to remain unchanged or even slightly higher in 2026.

Output boost

Arcadium is still on track to raise its combined lithium carbonate and hydroxide delivered volumes by about 40pc to 50,000-54,000t lithium carbonate equivalent this year, with volume growth weighted towards the second half of the year.

It sold during January-March 30,000 dry metric tonnes (dmt) of spodumene concentrate at $827/dmt on a 5.4pc grade basis and 9,300t of lithium hydroxide and carbonate at around $20,500/t. Contrary to the prevailing view that lithium hydroxide is trading at a discount compared with lithium carbonate, Graves said that is "absolutely not the case" in their portfolio but rather it is at a "significant premium to carbonate".

The company has fully commissioned the first 10,000 t/yr expansion at its Fenix lithium carbonate facility in Argentina, which is producing at close to full capacity. Its Olaroz stage two expansion in Argentina, with a nameplate capacity of 25,000 t/yr technical-grade lithium carbonate, is producing at lower rates given a longer ramp-up period. Its lithium hydroxide facilities in US North Carolina's Bessemer and China's Zhejiang with a combined 20,000 t/yr of capacity are still undergoing qualification.

Arcadium is planning to expand in Argentina and Canada and expects to add 95,000 t/yr of additional nameplate production capacity by the end of 2026, which will span across spodumene, lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide.

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