For all the initial skepticism around lithium-phosphate-iron batteries catching on in Europe, the region could soon have a key supplier right on its doorstep.
LG Chem and China’s Huayou Group plan to manufacture LFP cathodes in Morocco. The partnership includes the construction of a 50,000-ton-per-year cathode-material plant and a lithium-conversion facility that will tap the North African country’s world-beating reserve of phosphate rock. Mass production could begin by 2026. To round out the supply chain, there are plans for a high-pressure acid leaching plant and a precursor site in Indonesia.
Production from Morocco is destined for the North American market, subsidised by the US Inflation Reduction Act as Morocco is a signatory to the US Free Trade Agreement. But the North African facility, across the Gibraltar straits from Europe, will be LG Chem’s global base for LFP. It’s hard to believe the gaze won’t drift northwards as European automakers face increasing cost competition from rivals who have already embraced the nickel- and cobalt-free cathode.
Europe’s battery-materials industry has tended to see its local market as premium, drawn to the power and range of Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt. It doesn’t seem so many years ago when I asked the then CEO of Umicore about the threat from LFP and got the distinct impression it was of no major concern. Back then, even a small run-around for zipping back and forwards to the local school or shops would be NMC.
By contrast, the perspective from LG Chem is a lot more bullish today. Demand for LFP is “soaring” due to its price competitiveness and longer lifespan and CEO Shin Hak-cheol pledged to “actively respond” to the emerging market. At some point, the partnership will expand into lithium-manganese-phosphate-iron cathodes offering more capacity and better output. There was no mention in the press release of Europe.
There are growing signs LFP will play a vital part in Europe’s electrification of the automotive market. ElevenES claimed earlier this year to have opened Europe’s first LFP battery cell manufacturing facility, located in Subotica, Serbia. Its roadmap includes two Gigafactories, one producing 8GWh and the other 40GWh, by the end of 2027. That’s enough cobalt and nickel-free battery cells to power one million medium-sized EVs each year.
China’s CATL, the market leader, has pledged to bring its long-range ShenXing LFP battery technology to Europe. These cells have a range of 700km, and can recoup half that in a charge of 10 minutes or so.