Part of the Stock Digest group of websites: Visit Tech Stock Digest  

Electric vehicle revolution a rare investment opportunity as metals demand spikes

VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – The rate at which global automotive markets are adopting electric vehicles (EVs) is accelerating at a much faster pace than even some of the keenest market observers estimated at the start of 2017, and is opening up once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities among the four key ‘energy metals’ – lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.

Since the beginning of 2017, the market has reached a new peak of lithium-ion battery capacity in the pipeline. An additional 153 GWh has been added to planned capacity build-outs this year alone, taking the total to 372 GWh.

“But when you look at where we need to be by 2025 – 750 GWh, of which 645 GWh is for EVs – we are still way short. What the megafactory trend is doing, however, is creating a new production base that did not exist before. This will be the base for the new auto industry, as it is engulfed by electrification,” founder and MD of London-based Benchmark Minerals Intelligence Simon Moores tells Mining Weekly in an interview.

According to the analyst – who has had his finger on the emerging ‘energy metals pulse’ long before prices for the basket of critical battery metals started their dramatic, and relatively recent, upward trajectories – lithium-ion battery demand will continue to be the story that dominates the lithium market.

This will be led by Chinese demand. And their build-out of new hard rock lithium conversion capacity will be the one- to three-year processing story to watch, he points out.

The emergence of western EV auto manufacturers is a comparatively new trend that will influence the supply chain. “The question is whether more automakers will follow Great Wall Motors’ (GMW’s) investment in Pilbara Minerals and invest cash into the upstream mining and processing space,” Moores notes.

GWM announced in September that it will take a 3.5% stake in Australian lithium miner Pilbara Minerals, helping the automaker to secure upstream supply of the battery-making ingredient.

“The EV situation is a once-in-100-years occurrence. The path is now set for all major automakers to be producing their own vehicles by the early 2020s,” he advises.

BATTERY BOOM

Critically, Moores estimates that the lithium space needs to take its fundraising from $1.2-billion today to $9-billion worth of new supply by 2022 in order to have enough supply to meet EV demand.

“Right now, the lithium industry is way short of new supply in the pipeline for 2025.”

According to the analyst’s first-hand gathered data, there are 24 lithium-ion battery factories announced and at varying degrees of construction.

New York-based House Mountain Partners founder Chris Berry has likened Tesla’s 2014 announcement of its first ‘gigafactory’ as the ‘Big Bang’ for the industry.

“One could easily see more than 500 GWh of capacity by 2025 – over six times larger than today’s capacity. This is why many market watchers are ramping their lithium demand estimates upwards,” he tells Mining Weekly in an interview.

“It wasn’t that long ago that a 400 000 t lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) demand scenario by 2025 was looked at with a huge degree of scepticism for being too high. Now that is a low estimate and this is driven by megafactory construction.”

He believes that it is a clear sign of downstream players in the lithium-ion supply chain positioning for strong growth. Volkswagen, for instance, has announced a spend of €34-billion to become the leader in electric mobility by 2025. It is a significant announcement, but reflects almost a doubling of its initial commitment made just two months ago.

Further, Chinese tech firm Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Limited, one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world, plans to raise $2-billion for capacity expansion. “This can only mean the company wants to lock up long-term supply,” Berry says.

He notes that the major gatekeepers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which mainly focuses on new technologies and their fusion of the physical, digital and biological worlds, are security of upstream supply, as well as establishing the downstream processing capacity and intellectual capital needed to produce a highly specific product millions of times over.

“Of course, consumer demand is also likely the most important gatekeeper of all and we are all counting on wider EV adoption as more EV models come to the market and these megafactories integrate into expanding lithium-ion supply chains,” he points out.

“The demand side of the equations is settled – the only question is just what demand will look like in ten years – 600 000 t? 800 000 t? 1 000 000 t? My own estimates are in the 700 000 t range, but, who knows, as most forecasting is a fool’s errand,” Berry says.

“As the demand side of the argument seems settled – we’re going to need a lot more battery-grade lithium and soon – the really important issues are finding management teams with the technical acumen and financial skills to bring large and scalable projects to market within a reasonable budget and on time. The lithium market has a chequered track record here,” he points out.

SUPPLY REPLY

Berry believes that fundraising by more strategic investors and also market consolidation will become dominant themes going forward.

“You don’t need dozens of companies making large, scalable deposits critical to growth. It appears that original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are finally waking up to this reality and will focus on security of supply.”

Berry’s data shows that, so far in 2017, roughly $1.4-billion has been raised or committed for lithium supply development.

“This is an extraordinary success for such a small market but this pace needs to be maintained and, arguably, accelerated in order to meet the demand,” he cautions.

“I see a tight lithium market to 2020, with a long-term price of around $11 000/t on an LCE basis. The economics of conversion to lithium chemicals prove this,” he says.

Berry believes that breakthroughs in battery chemistry are happening increasingly often, but he does not believe lithium-ion batteries will be unseated soon as the preferred battery for mobility for several more years. Instead, one will continue to see lithium-ion battery prices fall by 8% to 12% a year going forward and energy density increase in the mid- single-digit range, but engineering out or substituting lithium in the battery “just will not happen”.

According to Berry, the market will balance itself given enough time, but, for now, the lithium market will likely remain tight to 2019, as downstream strategic players such as Ganfeng Lithium move to lock up long-term supply and build out its own supply chain. He paraphrased highly regarded lithium analyst Joe Lowry, who has said: “The lithium oligopoly is no more.”

While Berry does not see a bubble in the lithium market as a whole, he cautions that there is “clearly a bubble in the number of publicly listed lithium companies”.

Within the Lithium Triangle, Argentina has all the momentum now, given the political shift under the government of President Mauricio Macri and the challenges that Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM) and CORFO face in Chile as they work towards an agreement on various issues. On the hard rock side, Western Australia will continue its dominance, with expansion at Greenbushes planned and two new producers set to join the ranks in 2018.

Some of the lithium movers and shakers are SQM, Albemarle and Tianqi, which are ramping up their supply response, and Galaxy Resources and Neometals are doing the same in Australia’s Pilbara. Other near-term producers include Altura Mining and Nemaska Lithium, while Lithium Americas is fully funded for the first phase of its Cauchari-Olaroz project in Jujuy, Argentina, and in construction.

Click here to continue reading...

Subscribe to the RSD email list and get the latest resource stock activity directly to your inbox, for free.

MARKET SUMMARY

INDICES

Name Last Change
DOW 24792.20 0.57%
S&P 500 2690.16 0.53%
NASDAQ 6994.76 0.83%
TSX 16131.64 0.56%
TSX-V 807.51 0.00%

Resource Commodities

Name Last Change
Gold 1261.70 0.00
Silver 16.05 0.00
Copper 3.11 1.98%
Platinum 911.00 1.61%
Oil 57.30 0.45%
Natural Gas 2.61 2.76%
Uranium 24.25 N/A
Zinc 1.44 0.00%

@RSDigest ON TWITTER

Part of the Stock Digest family of websites
Small Cap Stock Digest