Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Itochu, Marubeni Diversify Sources Of Lithium Ion Battery Material
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Japan's big trading houses are moving to reduce their reliance on South America for a key material used to make lithium ion batteries, aiming to cut costs and secure stable supplies.
Itochu Corp. (8001) began sample shipments of U.S.-origin lithium carbonate this month to Toda Kogyo Corp. (4100), Nichia Corp. and other manufacturers of components for the batteries. Currently, South America accounts for about 70% of the material's supply.
- Itochu has a stake in Simbol, a producer of lithium carbonate.
U.S. firm Simbol Materials LLC will extract the raw material for further processing into lithium carbonate, from steam that powers turbines at a geothermal power plant in the state of California. The steam is rich in lithium chloride, and filtration with a special ion exchange membrane separates this material out. Itochu has a stake in Simbol.
The U.S. firm takes a little more than 10 hours to produce refined lithium carbonate. This is far less than the year and a half or so needed in South America, where sunlight must evaporate salty lake water before the concentration process begins.
Simbol's method costs 20-50% less. And the output has a purity of 99.9%, better than the South American product's 99.3% to 99.4%. The smaller amounts of metallic impurities help sharply reduce the risk of lithium ion batteries catching fire, among other benefits. Simbol is expected to begin mass production in 2015 at around 4,000 tons a year.
Marubeni Corp. (8002) is moving to sell lithium carbonate extracted from ore in Canada, starting this fiscal year. It plans to import 5,000 tons, or about 30% of Japanese demand, in 2015 from Canada Lithium Corp., which owns a mining site in Quebec. Production will cost around the same as in South America but take just a few days.
(The Nikkei Business Daily, Oct. 8 edition)