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Manganese imbalance worse than cobalt in the lithium-ion battery materials supply chain

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 12:03 -- Paul Crompton

While the battery industry’s attention has been on cobalt, supplies of manganese— that other key raw material for lithium-ion manufacturing— is facing a potential shortfall.

A chart drawn up by industry analysts Benchmark Mineral Intelligence suggests manganese’s production capacity across the battery supply chain is as precarious as the highest risk raw materials of lithium and cobalt.

The raw material was not mined in any significant quantities in the main jurisdictions for cathode, battery cell or EV production last year, suggests Benchmark.

Its chart states that North America and Europe produced no manganese suitable for battery cells last year, while China only produced 6% of global total output, relying on primary producers such as South Africa, Australia and Gabon, on the west coast of Central Africa.

It is sobering news for the industry, especially the US, which Benchmark suggests makes 10% of global lithium-ion cell supply while Europe makes 6%.

Benchmark stated: “Those familiar with the supply chains for lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel will understand that similar rules apply here: not all manganese can be used to produce the manganese sulphate monohydrate used in lithium ion battery cathodes.

“And it is this manganese chemical refining step in the supply chain where China has the significant advantage with 93% of production in 2019. To reiterate: China only produces 6% of mined manganese but chemically refines 93%."

This is a larger imbalance than cobalt, of which China mines only 1% of global supply but chemically refines 82%.

The statement added: “As Benchmark has always advised, you do not need to own the raw material sources to control the global flow of trade in the lithium ion battery supply chain.

“It is these chemical links in the supply chain that both Europe and North America are sorely missing and could yet act as another road block to creating a 21st century EV ecosystem on their respective continents should the situation continue unchecked.

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