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Investing in Li-Battery (3) – Value Chain Upstream – Cathode Materials

published: 2010-12-09 15:21

Amongst various materials available on the market, lithium iron phosphate (LiMPO4) is the best applicable material for automobile use. However, the patent pertaining to the application of lithium iron phosphate is in the hands of a professor at the University of Texas, Dr. John. B. Goodenough, and Phostech Lithium Incorporated. Therefore, at the current stage, most Japanese and Korean big names in the battery market use other cathode materials for development of automobile power.

American companies like A123 and Valence have a long history of making R&D efforts in the lithium iron phosphate field. On the other hand, JCI-SAFT, Primearth Co. of Panasonic, Korean company KOKAM and French company GAIA are all devoted to using cobalt, nickel, and manganese as main materials in the battery.

In addition to patent consideration, the ability to mass produce is another technical bottleneck. Currently, suppliers of lithium iron phosphate include American compnies A123, Valence and Canadian company Phostech. Taiwanese companies include Formosa Energy & Material Technology, Advanced Lithium Electrochemistry, Tatung Fine Chemicals, and Hirose Tech. Chinese companies include Tianjin STL Energy Technology, Pulead Technology Industry, Hunan Shanshan Advanced Material, BTR New Energy Materials, and Tianjiao Technology.

Moreover, Japanese equipment providers started to market equipments that are capable of mass producing lithium iron phosphate in 2010. As a result, manufacturers are in a better position to expand their existing capacity. According to the research statistics provided by EnergyTrend, cathode powder manufacturers are now able to produce monthly as many as 1700 tons of lithium iron phosphate. Among the aforementioned manufacturers of lithium iron phosphate, Formosa Energy & Material Technology and Advanced Lithium Electrochemistry happen to have the most capacity expansion in place due to technological advancement, making Taiwan the largest exporter of lithium iron phosphate cathode materials.

With the assumption of global lithium iron phosphate production to reach annual 20,000 tons in 2010, it is projected to suffice for only 280,000 HEVs. The need for capacity expansion in the future is inevitable.

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