POSCO, Korea's largest steel supplier, will begin the commercialization of lithium in earnest. The company said on Feb. 15 that it held a groundbreaking ceremony of the commercial lithium production plant in Salta, Argentina, on Feb. 14 (local time) with 20 dignitaries including high-ranking officials from the country’s provincial government and POSCO chairman Kwon Oh-joon.
POSCO’s lithium production plant will be located at Pozuelos Salt Lake, which rises 4,000 meters above the sea level. According to the company, the plant will have an annual production capacity of 2,500 tons of high-purity lithium for rechargeable batteries, and supply them to manufacturers of anode and cathode material for automotive battery at home and abroad. Given it takes an average of 40 kilograms of lithium to make an automotive battery, this is worth about 60,000 cars a year.
With an area of 106 square kilometers, Pozuelos Salt Lake is one of the best place to produce lithium since it is estimated to have about 1.5 million tons of lithium reserves. Earlier this year, POSCO had signed a supply contract with Lithea Inc. of Argentina, the company owning the mining rights of Pozuelos Salt Lake, securing the stable permissions to access the lake. The plant will use POSCO’s independent technology that dramatically reduces the period, which usually takes more than a year to extract lithium, through chemical reactions.
POSCO’s high-efficiency lithium extract technology, which was developed with support from the energy resource technology development project led by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in 2010, doesn’t require a large area of salt farm compared to the conventional evaporation and extraction method, and is less affected by climate changes. Since there is very little loss when extracting lithium, it is possible to extract the same amount of lithium, compared to the conventional process, even with using a less quantity of salt water. Therefore, it is an economical and environmentally friendly technology.
The world's lithium market has grown to 170,000 tons last year from 70,000 tons in 2002. It is a promising market that is projected to grow to 270,000 tons by 2020. Of this, the high-purity lithium to be produced by POSCO by the same year will be 135,000 tons, accounting for a half of the whole market. However, the domestic rechargeable battery manufacturers are recently suffering from unstable supply and demand and price increases since they depend entirely on imports for lithium.