GEM, Brunp JV to develop Indonesian nickel-cobalt project

A joint venture comprising Tsingshan Group, GEM, Brunp Recycling, PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) and Hanwa Co Ltd will invest $700 million to develop a nickel-cobalt project in Indonesia.

The project, located in Morowali County, Central Sulawesi in Indonesia, has a target production capacity of 50,000 tonnes per year of nickel and 4,000 tpy of cobalt. It will be able to produce 50,000 tpy of nickel hydroxide intermediates, 150,000 tpy battery-grade nickel sulfate, and 20,000 tpy battery-grade cobalt sulfate, battery recycler GEM said late last week.

GEM, steel mill Tsingshan, and battery-maker CATL’s recycling arm Brunp will hold 36%, 21% and 25% of the shares of the joint venture respectively. The remaining 10% and 8% shares will be owned by Indonesian joint venture IMIP and trading company Hanwa.

“The energy [source] for electric vehicles (EVs) has entered into an era of nickel-rich batteries, and the new energy industry is undergoing a drastic reshuffle, which enable those who own nickel resources to have the [negotiating] power,” Xu Kaihua, chairman of GEM, said at the signing ceremony on Friday September 28.

The rapid development in the EV sector and extensive support for EV applications by various national governments has led to increasing demand for battery materials, including nickel and cobalt – key materials in lithium-ion batteries.

Demand from the battery sector is expected to surge fivefold over the next six to seven years, Fastmarkets MB head of battery raw materials research William Adams said at the Metal Bulletin Nickel conference in Jakarta on September 12-13.

Nickel demand from lithium-ion battery producers is set to rise rapidly from 100,000 tpy to 500,000 tpy by 2025 while the market shifts to nickel-rich batteries, such as nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) 811 batteries.

While nickel prices are largely dependent on the performance of the stainless steel market, which is the largest consumer of nickel, market participants say the looming EV boom is likely to add more weight to the nickel price outlook.

Fastmarkets MB assessed the price of nickel sulfate, one of the key precursor materials for lithium-ion battery cathode compounds, at 25,800-26,000 yuan ($3,752-3,781) per tonne ex-works China on September 25, down 0.4% from 25,800-26,200 yuan per tonne the week before, reacting to weaker macroeconomic sentiment and falling nickel prices on the London Metal Exchange.

The London Metal Exchange three-month nickel contract settled at $12,410 per tonne on October 1, down from $13,080 per tonne a week ago. Prices are up from $10,425 per tonne a year ago, having established a floor in part due to the strong outlook for nickel demand in the coming years, particularly class one nickel, as a result of the anticipated EV boom.

Meanwhile, Fastmarkets MB assessed the low-grade cobalt metal price – against which cobalt sulfate contracts are often agreed– at $33.50-34.25 per lb on Friday September 28. Prices have fallen from a high of $43.70-44.45 per lb hit in April, but bottomed out amid prevailing metal tightness, particularly for the brands and forms of metal in demand from the battery sector.

Fastmarkets MB assessed the Chinese cobalt sulfate price at 90,000-94,000 yuan per tonne on September 28, unchanged week on week.