New models of electric cars are spurring demand for lithium-ion batteries and related raw materials. Earlier this week, Ford Motor chose a subsidiary of South Korea's LG Chem to supply lithium-ion battery packs for the all-electric Focus, which goes on sale in 2011. And German chemical firm Süd-Chemie said it would spend $77 million to build a plant in Candiac, Quebec, that will make lithium iron phosphate (LFP), a cathode material used in lithium-ion batteries.
Earlier, General Motors chose the LG Chem subsidiary Compact Power to supply the batteries for GM's all-electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, also expected to debut next year. To boost consumer confidence, GM said it would guarantee the Volt's battery for eight years or 100,000 miles. The GM and Ford batteries will be produced at a new Compact Power plant that is under construction in Holland, Mich.
The U.S. government is providing half of the cost of the $300 million plant through a grant announced last August as part of $2.4 billion awarded for battery and electric drive research under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (C&EN, Aug. 10, 2009, page 9). President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at the official groundbreaking ceremony in Michigan today.
Süd-Chemie said the new LFP plant will employ a proprietary wet-chemistry process. The plant, to start up in 2012, will ultimately produce 2,500 metric tons of LFP annually, enough for about 50,000 all-electric cars per year or as many as 500,000 hybrid gas/electric vehicles. Süd-Chemie now operates LFP plants in St. Bruno, Quebec, and Moosburg, Germany, with combined capacity of 900 metric tons.
Süd-Chemie and LG Chem are pursuing a young but potentially lucrative market. Steven Minnihan, an associate with market research firm Lux Research, expects global sales of lithium-ion vehicle batteries to reach $2 billion this year and grow to $6 billion by 2015.