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Ford strengthens battery partnerships

Albemarle deal secures lithium for ramping up EV production Metal Tech News - June 5, 2023

Ford Motor Company has stepped up critical metals acquisition, forging still more relationships with the likes of battery metal miners and developers and bringing the automotive manufacturer closer to its target of producing an annual run rate of two million electric vehicles globally by the end of 2026.

In May, Ford and leading U.S. lithium miner Albemarle formed a partnership for the supply of battery-grade lithium hydroxide to scale up the automaker's EV production.

Albemarle is a world leader in transforming lithium and bromine into products supporting the mobility, energy, connectivity, and health industries.

From 2026 through 2030, Albemarle will deliver more than 100,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium hydroxide for the production of approximately three million future Ford EV batteries.

"With the growing demand for EVs in the United States, our customers are seeking to regionalize their supply chain for greater security, sustainability and lower costs," said Eric Norris, president of Albemarle Energy Storage. "This agreement exemplifies the industry collaborations and investments required. We're honored to be entering into this strategic partnership with a legendary automotive manufacturer such as Ford."

Louisiana-based Albemarle was awarded a grant for nearly $150 million in October from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a first wave of projects funded by President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law expanding domestic production of energy transition solutions, materials, and components, reducing reliance on imports from other countries.

Funding will help support the anticipated costs of constructing a commercial U.S.-based lithium facility at Albemarle's North Carolina location.

Both Albemarle and Ford are committed to bolstering the global EV supply chain with domestically produced lithium hydroxide from the U.S. or originating in countries with a Free Trade Agreement.

Not Ford's first rodeo

More major global car manufacturers have become hands-on in the race to obtain batteries and access battery materials ahead of forecasted shortages. However, there are still very few actual production-ready projects in play, with the issue exacerbated by the average decade-plus between mineral discovery and development.

"Ford's new electric vehicle line up has generated huge enthusiasm and demand, and now we are putting the industrial system in place to scale quickly," said Ford Motors President and CEO Jim Farley. "Our Model e team has moved with speed, focus and creativity to secure the battery capacity and raw materials we need to deliver breakthrough EVs for millions of customers."

Back in March, Ford also partnered with PT Vale Indonesia and China's Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt on a $4.5 billion nickel processing plant in Indonesia, another of Ford's initiatives to develop battery chemistry and raw materials sourcing contracts to reach its production target of 600,000 electric vehicles annually by late 2023 and more than two million at the close of 2026.

The company's related dealings include partnerships with Contemporary Amperex Technology, a global leader in lithium-ion battery development and manufacturing and direct-sourced battery raw materials offtake deals in the US, Australia and Indonesia.

Ford also has an additional offtake supply agreement with Australia's Ioneer for lithium carbonate from its Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project in Nevada over a five-year term, starting in 2025.

Ford intends to utilize Ioneer's lithium carbonate to produce batteries for Ford EV use in BlueOval SK Battery Park, the Ford and SK On battery manufacturing joint venture.

Charging ahead

Ford and Tesla also recently reached an agreement that will share access to more than 12,000 Tesla Superchargers across the US and Canada for Ford EV customers, doubling the number of fast chargers that were available in 2024.

"Widespread access to fast-charging is absolutely vital to our growth as an EV brand, and this breakthrough agreement comes as we are ramping up production of our popular Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning and preparing to launch a series of next-generation EVs starting in 2025," said Farley.

Tesla's Elon Musk has repeatedly voiced that car companies need to focus on battery metal refining rather than the mining of raw materials. Constraints on lithium availability aren't the result of the mineral's scarcity but the limited capacity to deliver ultra-high purity battery-grade hydroxide and carbonate chemicals into battery supply chains globally, he said.

"I would like to, once again, urge entrepreneurs to enter the lithium refining business. The mining is relatively easy. The refining is much harder."

Closing the loop

In addition to the lithium hydroxide supply partnership, Albemarle and Ford will soon be looking for collaborators to help develop a closed-loop solution for lithium-ion battery recycling.

Both companies support responsible critical mineral sourcing and production and will be working together to ensure sustainability, transparency, and traceability in their supply chains.

As an example, Albemarle aims to supply lithium hydroxide sourced only from mines that have been accredited through an Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) audit, with standards developed by NGOs, local communities, etc.

"We are at a significant moment in Ford's next industrial revolution for the EV age," said Lisa Drake, Ford's vice president of EV Industrialization, Model e. "Working with strong global collaborators such as Albemarle, which has well-established operations and a proven track record of scaling facilities, helps us fortify and de-risk our plans for sourcing the key minerals we need to make EVs more accessible for our customers longer-term."


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