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Altech targets lithium battery sector with HPA

Altech Chemicals has pointed to surging demand for high purity alumina to make the case that its proposed HPA plant will be well placed to take advantage of a sustained upswing in demand for high purity alumina, largely driven by the lithium-ion battery revolution. 

The company announced in June 2016, that demand for HPA was expected to top out at close to 15,000 tonnes per annum by 2025.

A recent research report from Petra Capital in Sydney however, forecast that the lithium-ion battery manufacturing sector alone would most likely consume about 23,000 tonnes of HPA a year, with a more bullish scenario predicting demand for HPA from the battery metals sector could be as high as 37,500 tonnes per annum by 2025.

London-based CRU Consulting is even more optimistic, predicting demand of approximately 76,000 tonnes per annum of HPA required by the battery metals sector by 2025.

Altech’s proposed Malaysian plant will initially be able to produce up to 4,500 tpa of HPA and the company has run its numbers on a forecast price of USD$27,000 per tonne.

The main application of HPA in lithium-ion batteries is as separator sheet that keeps the internal cathode and anode electrodes from coming into contact with each other.

The separator sheets are a critical component in lithium-ion batteries, because if the electrodes touch, combustion occurs, leading to the potential destruction of the battery.

Synthetic polymers have traditionally been used for the separator sheets, however, these materials do not have the heat resistant properties that HPA offers and ultimately decrease the life of the battery.

HPA-coated battery separators can withstand the very high temperatures typically generated by lithium manganese cobalt oxide battery cells, increasing the battery’s discharge rate, lowering self-discharge and thereby lengthening battery life cycle.

At the recent Resource Stocks conference in Sydney, CRU senior consultant Toby Green told delegates in his presentation on lithium-ion battery growth commodities that: “It’s not cobalt, lithium or even nickel sulphate, it’s high-purity alumina (HPA)”.

"HPA is a huge growth story, albeit one emerging off a low base in the form of the estimated USD$1.1 billion HPA market”.

“The eyes of the car companies turn from time to time and they've landed at the moment on HPA.”

To-date, the HPA market has largely been driven by its use in the LED lighting market which is also trending upwards due to the lower power consumption and “green” nature of LED light bulbs.

Other uses include semiconductor manufacturing and high tech mobile phone facias.

The broader uptake of HPA by the lithium-ion battery sector would be a potential game-changer for Altech.

Altech Chemical’s Managing Director Iggy Tan said, “HPA demand growth in the LED sector has long been acknowledged and understood; it is now apparent that this growth will be complemented by stronger than forecast HPA demand growth from the lithium-ion battery industry, specifically from battery separator sheet manufacturers.”

“Most battery separator sheet manufacturers are based in Japan, where our off-take partner Mitsubishi Corporation is based.”

“Altech, together with Mitsubishi is well positioned to meet this rapidly expanding demand sector for HPA. The timing for construction of Altech’s proposed HPA plant in Malaysia appears perfect, with two parallel streams of near-term HPA demand growth now apparent”.

The increased demand for HPA is very timely for Altech who has already ticked a lot of boxes on the pathway to production in Malaysia.

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