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SK and Tesla call for US to end tariff on graphite from China to help domestic lithium-ion battery manufacturing

Mon, 12/06/2021 - 13:15 -- Paul Crompton

Vehicle giant Tesla and battery behemoth SK Innovations have both called for a waiver on tariffs for graphite imported into the US from China.

The firms are calling for the lifting of tariffs of 25% that were first introduced by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in September 2018.

The tariffs of graphite were made in response to China’s “unfair trade practices” conclusion in the Donald Trump administration’s Section 301 investigation.

Tesla is asking the US Government to waive tariffs on graphite coming from China – claiming it can’t get it elsewhere, reported US news outlet CNNC.

In three separate filings with the USTR office, Tesla has asked for a halt of tariffs on artificial graphite (powder or flake form), and natural graphite in powder form

In October, the USTR said that it would consider tariff exclusions, particularly for imports that can only be obtained from China.

Tesla claims it cannot access graphite in sufficient volume outside of China to make its battery anodes.

CNBC reported Tesla as stating: “Tesla supports the renewal of the exclusion of artificial graphite from the Section 301 tariffs. Tesla has demonstrated with the information presented in this request that artificial graphite is currently not available in the specifications nor capacity outside of its current suppliers and China that is required for Tesla’s manufacture of EV batteries in the United States.”

CNBC also reported that Korea’s SK Innovation, via its SK Battery America subsidiary, also supported an extended waiver for tariffs on graphite.

CNBC reported SK stating: “A renewed exclusion will allow SK to manufacture quality breakthrough electric vehicle components at competitive prices for American OEMs, while creating full-time jobs that support American families. For example, exclusions will benefit an $11.4B joint venture with Ford and a $2.54B investment in Georgia,” the company wrote.

Graphite demand

Graphite materials remain the dominant active anode material used in lithium-ion batteries, with a large battery requiring around 25kg of graphite.

Demand for graphite from battery makers is expected to grow 10.5 times up to 2030,  to around 1.75 tonnes a year, according to analysts Visual Capitalist Elements (VC Elements).

The analysts also suggest natural flake graphite market is expected to be in deficit by 2023 due to a shortage in new sources, particularly outside of China.

China accounts for 59% of production (around 650,000 tonnes) and 66% of exports globally, according to VC Elements. The next biggest producers of graphite is Mozambique with 120,000 tonnes.

Last year, natural graphite was placed on the 2020 Battery Critical Raw Materials list by the European Commission.

Lithium, antimony, cobalt, and vanadium were also placed on the list, which is composed every three years following a review of raw materials for their economic importance and concerns over supply risk.

The Commission will also continue to monitor nickel closely, in view of developments relating to growth in demand for battery raw materials.

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