Metal Tech News - January 13, 2023
In a move to secure an oft overlooked lithium-ion battery ingredient, Stellantis has cut a deal with Australia-based Element 25 Ltd. to supply a high-purity manganese product that the global automaker needs for the battery packs that power its growing line of electric vehicles.
Element 25 plans to mine manganese from its Butcherbird deposit in Western Australia and ship a concentrate to a processing facility it plans to develop in the United States that will produce high-purity manganese sulfate monohydrate (HPMSM) – an upgraded form of the metal that goes into lithium-ion batteries.
The binding agreement calls for Element 25 to ship 45,000 tons of HPMSM to Stellantis over five years beginning in 2026, with options to extend the supply term and volumes.
Stellantis – which owns globally recognized auto brands such as Alfa Romeo, Citroën, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Opel, Peugeot, and Ram – also plans to make what is expected to be a significant equity investment in Element 25.
"Stellantis' support for Element 25's high purity battery-grade manganese sulphate project is a fantastic endorsement by one of the world's largest automakers and validates our plans to become a globally significant long-term supplier of battery materials to meet growing global demand," Element 25 Managing Director Justin Brown said.
For Stellantis, the binding supply agreement helps assure that it has the manganese needed to achieve the electric mobility goals outlined in its Dare Forward 2030 strategic plan.
"Our commitment to a carbon net zero future includes creation of a smart supply chain to ensure we meet our customers' desire for EVs," said Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares. "Electric vehicles that deliver breakthrough customer experience in propulsion, connectivity and convenience are central to our Dare Forward 2030 plan that delivers safe, clean and affordable mobility."
What does manganese have to do with Stellantis' clean electric mobility strategy?
Despite not making headlines alongside other battery metals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt, manganese is currently a key stabilizing ingredient in the cathodes of the nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion batteries widely used in EVs and is likely the key to achieving the aggressive e-mobility goals set by global automakers such as Stellantis.
"The manganese in the cathode material has an important impact on the safety of the battery cells and safety is a main priority when it comes to batteries that power electric cars and electric devices," Umicore, a global materials technology and recycling group, wrote on NMC cathode materials.
Depending on the exact battery chemistry, roughly as much manganese as cobalt goes into current EV batteries. The reason manganese has not captured headlines is it does not have the human rights stigma associated with cobalt and there is currently no shortage of this lithium-ion battery stabilizing metal.
Roughly 20,000 metric tons of manganese was mined globally during 2021 – South Africa, Gabon, and China accounted for roughly 78% of this total – according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
This puts manganese slightly into oversupply, which is why the humble metal may be a key element to automakers' plans to completely transition to EVs and other zero-carbon vehicles over the next 15 years.
Stellantis, Tesla and VW are among the companies that are considering more manganese-rich recipes to ensure there are enough batteries to meet the ambitious EV sales targets. Currently, the cathodes in EV batteries contain somewhere between 10 and 30% manganese. However, batteries can be made with more manganese, which lessens the need for nickel and cobalt.
"It is relatively straightforward to do a cathode that's two-third nickel and one-third manganese, which will allow us to make 50% more cell volume with the same amount of nickel," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during the company's Battery Day 2020 event.
Shifting to a more manganese-forward cathode is expected to lower the cost and make it easier to supply the quantities of battery materials needed to complete the EV transition.
"High-manganese cathodes are considered one of the strongest candidates for the next generation of lithium-ion batteries because of their cost advantage, cobalt-free nature, and strong electrochemical performance," according to Roskill, a world-leading metals consultant based in London.
For Stellantis, the binding agreement it has with Element 25 helps ensure it has a supply of the high-purity manganese sulfate monohydrate needed for the lithium-ion batteries powering the objectives of its Dare Forward 2030 strategic plan – transitioning 100% of its European and half of its North American passenger car and truck sales to electric models by the end of the decade.
At the same time, Stellantis is aggressively shrinking its carbon footprint and plans to cut its CO2 emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2038.
The automaker plans to invest 30 billion euros (US$32.5 billion) toward these interrelated goals through 2025.
Stellantis' climate goals require a minimized carbon footprint of the materials it uses to manufacture its vehicles, and Element 25 says it is positioning itself to deliver net-zero manganese to the automaker.
"We are fully aligned with Stellantis' decarbonization and electrification goals, which represent some of the most ambitious in the industry and have committed to reach agreed net zero carbon emission goals under this deal," said Brown.
The binding high-purity manganese sulphate monohydrate supply agreement between Element 25 and Stellantis is conditional to the completion of due diligence, and a feasibility study for Element 25's planned Butcherbird mine in Australia. A prefeasibility study for Butcherbird and scoping level study for a HPMSM plant have already been completed.