Critical metals for critical times Reviewing the EV-battery raw materials supply chain.

Geopolitical trends


Has the resurgence of COVID-19 in China put brakes on the country’s ambitions as a key critical minerals supplier? Has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb. 24 (and was still ongoing as of press time), changed the narrative for suppliers and buyers alike?

The answer to the first question links to the emergence of the Asian nation as a leading processor, especially of copper and lithium. However, China isn’t known to possess vast natural resources of battery-grade minerals, and the lockdown protocols this past March in 10 provinces, including battery manufacturing hub Shenzhen, could have slowed production. Still, at a current share of about 80 percent in the segment, China likely will remain a formidable opponent against Europe and the U.S., at least for the next decade.

Russia and Ukraine’s political tensions appear to have jeopardized supply of critical elements, including copper, nickel and cobalt. Moscow-headquartered Nornickel is a significant nickel producer and has set its sights on 400,000 metric tons in copper output and 200,000 metric tons of nickel this year. The conglomerate says it expects global nickel consumption to increase by 16 percent and copper usage to rise by 3 percent in 2022. Still, the ongoing sanctions on Russia might hamper supply of at least three critical metals in the EV battery supply chain because the nation accounts for 10 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent of the world’s nickel, cobalt and copper output, respectively, according to an article in Chemistry World.

Ukraine might not be a big player at present, but its vast lithium resources in Donbas (southeast Ukraine) gained investor attention for exploration and mining, according to an article in Engineering and Technology. Donbas’ resource estimates for the metal are pegged at about 500,000 metric tons, according to a conference paper by Naumenko Uliana and Vasylenko Svitlana of the Institute of Geological Sciences, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. China and Australia were among the biggest contenders to support Ukraine in lithium mining. However, the war indefinitely has delayed plans to expand renewable energy projects, according to an article in Thred.


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