POSCO held a groundbreaking ceremony for its commercial lithium processing plant in Salta, Argentina on February 14 (local time), which was attended by about 20 state government officials including POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon.
“We have brought our advanced and environmental-friendly technology to extract and process lithium,” said Kwon at the ceremony. “We will continue to expand our operations in Argentina and boost cooperation with our partners here to create a win-win solution for all.”
POSCO’s lithium processing plant will be located at Pozuelos Salt Lake, which rises 4,000 meters above sea level. It will have an annual processing capacity of 2,500 tons of high-purity lithium for rechargeable batteries, and will supply them to domestic and international mineral manufacturing enterprises that produce minerals for car batteries. Considering the fact that it takes an average of 40 kilograms of high-purified lithium to make a single electric car battery, this equates to about 60,000 electric cars a year.
Pozuelos Lake, which spans 106 square kilometers and is estimated to have about 1.5 million tons of lithium reserves, is considered to be an optimal location to produce lithium.
Earlier this year, POSCO signed a supply contract with Lithea Inc. of Argentina, the company owning the mining rights of Pozuelo Salt Lake and securing the stable permissions to access the lake. POSCO also set a solid foundation for entering the lithium business through developing an independent technology that is economically-friendly.
The Pozuelo Salt Lake plant will use POSCO’s innovative and independent technology that dramatically reduces the lithium extraction period, which usually takes more than a year, through chemical reaction.
POSCO’s high-efficiency lithium extract technology, which was developed with support from the energy resource technology development project led by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in 2010, does not require a large area of salt farm compared to the conventional evaporation and extraction method, and is less affected by changes in climate. Moreover, since there is very little loss when extracting lithium, it is possible to extract the same amount of lithium, compared to the conventional process, even by using a less amount of salt water. Therefore, POSCO’s high-efficiency lithium extract technology is an economical and environmental-friendly technology.
POSCO’s lithium business is one of the main businesses that has taken the lead in developing production technologies since 2010, when POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon was the Director at the Research Institute of Industrial Science & Technology (RIST). Since the development of the company’s high-efficiency lithium extract technology in 2010, POSCO has been beefing up pilot production from 2 tons to 200 tons, while examining the economic viability of the technology.
The world’s lithium market has grown from 70,000 tons in 2002 to 170,000 tons in 2014, and is a promising market that is projected to grow to 270,000 tons by 2020. Of this, the lithium market for electric car batteries, which will be produced by POSCO, is expected to be 135,000 tons, accounting for half of the entire market. Nonetheless, the Korean battery manufacturers that depend entirely on lithium imports are currently suffering from unstable supplies and price hikes.
With an increase in sales of electric cars worldwide including China, which is aiming to further promote electric cars across the nation, the lithium industry is welcoming POSCO for its new lithium business. Due to the recent shortage of lithium supplies and price increases, global battery manufacturers are already starting to discuss the possibility of lithium supply contracts with POSCO.
Meanwhile, CEO Ohjoon Kwon had an exclusive meeting with Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina, on February 15 following the ceremony marking the construction of the steelmaker’s lithium processing plant in Argentina. Kwon discussed POSCO’s excellent lithium extract technology and the technology development process. He also talked about future plans for building a consistent and cooperative relationship with Argentina for lithium development.
POSCO Lithium Business Progress
2010: Development of the world’s first independent lithium extract technology using chemical reaction
2011: Establishment and operation of pilot production facilities with RIST (Annual Capa: 2 tons)
– Process aim was 100% achieved and qualification process for enlargement was completed
2013: Completion of pilot production at Maricunga Salt Lake in Chile (Annual Capa: 20 tons)
2014: Completion of pilot production at Pozuelos Salt Lake in Argentina (Annual Capa: 20 tons)
2015: Completion of pilot production at Cauchari Salt Lake in Argentina (Annual Capa: 200 tons)
2016: Start of construction of lithium processing plant at Pozuelos Salt Lake in Argentina (Annual Capa: 2,500 tons); Projected to complete construction and begin production this year