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NEV battery demand surge leads to big expectations for lithium miners

Chinese lithium miners are expecting to officially report strong financial performances for the first half due to increasing demand and rising raw material prices.

Shenzhen-listed Tianqi Lithium, based in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, estimated its profit for the first six months would reach a range between 9.6 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) and 11.6 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 11,089.14 percent to 13,420.21 percent.

The company said the profit surge was due to the expansion of production capacity of lithium-ion battery manufacturers buoyed by the increasing demand for new energy vehicles on a global scale.

Shenzhen-listed Ganfeng Lithium, located in Jiangxi province, reported estimated year-on-year profit growth of between 408.24 percent and 535.3 percent, with profits ranging between 7.2 billion yuan and 9 billion yuan.

Ganfeng also said its sales volume and value surged because of continuous high prices of lithium products buoyed by increasing demand from the new energy industry.

Another Shenzhen-listed lithium mining company Chengxin Lithium reported its first-half profit increased 950.4 percent year-on-year to 3 billion yuan.

According to financial service provider Wind Information Co Ltd headquartered in Shanghai, 13 Chinese lithium companies reported surges in estimated half-year profit in July, indicating the great development potential of the industry.

Lin Boqiang, head of the China Institute for Studies in Energy Policy at Xiamen University, said that though lithium production continued to grow, it is still lagging behind the surging market demand spurred by the NEV industry as the metal is a key component in NEV batteries, and Chinese lithium miners are actively expanding their overseas footprint to further tap the growing market.

A recent McKinsey report said China is one of the world's lithium mining hubs, with two other major miners being Australia and Latin America.

In the first half, production and sales of NEVs reached 2.661 million and 2.6 million units, respectively, in China, both up 120 percent year-on-year, said the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The continuous growth in the production and sales of NEVs has driven up demand for batteries. According to the China Automotive Power Battery Industry Innovation Alliance, battery output reached 206.4 gigawatt-hours in the first half, a year-on-year increase of 176.4 percent.

"Although the element lithium is not a scarcity in nature, the process of extraction and refinement takes time, and a lithium project can take up to about a decade from building factories to seeing final products. The gap will continue to exist for a certain amount of time which, together with the high prices of raw materials, are appealing to investors. With an influx of investment in the industry, supply will pick up and prices might fall. The change is cyclical," Lin said.

According to Shanghai Metals Market (SMM), a metal information provider in China, global lithium resources presented a supply gap of 9-12 percent during the 2021-22 period.

Soaring demand continued to drive expectations of extended supply deficits in China, which led to high material prices, according to financial information provider Trading Economics, based in New York.

Lithium carbonate prices in China rose slightly to 479,500 yuan per metric ton in mid-August, remaining close to the record-high of 500,000 yuan from March and 400 percent higher year-on-year, said Trading Economics.

SMM forecasts that from 2023 to 2024, more production of the resources will speed up amid the high lithium prices, and the market may see a small surplus in supply. In 2025, lithium resources will re-enter a new round of short supply, driven by the boom in the energy storage market.

Lithium is expected to see its demand rise from 500,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent in 2021 on a global scale to some 3 million to 4 million tons in 2030, McKinsey said.

McKinsey expects the continued growth of lithium-ion batteries at an annual compound rate of approximately 30 percent over the next decade. By 2030, electric vehicles, along with energy-storage systems, e-bikes, electrification of tools, and other battery-intensive applications, could account for 4,000 to 4,500 GWh of lithium-ion demand.

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