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POSCO begins lithium production for first time in Korea; domestic supply for Samsung, LG; investing $261M in anode materials by 2020

POSCO Chairman Kwon Oh-joon shows lithium carbonate which was produced in a recycling method for the first time in the world at a newly built lithium extract plant in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province

Korea-based steel-maker POSCO has begun commercial production of lithium in Korea for the first time. On 7 February, POSCO held a ceremony for the completion of a PosLX (POSCO Lithium Extraction) plant with an annual capacity of 2,500 tons at its lithium plant at Gwangyang Works.
At the opening ceremony—the attendees of which included Ung-beom Lee, president of LG Chem, and Nam-seong Cho, president of Samsung SDI—Jong-joo Kim, the director of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy noted that Korea currently imports all lithium carbonate for batteries despite being a world-class producer of secondary batteries. “Today’s completion of the plant will empower POSCO to produce lithium carbonate for batteries on its own, relieving secondary battery makers of worries about securing quality raw materials.”
The PosLX Plant will supply its lithium carbonate to POSCO ESM which produces cathodes for secondary batteries, and LG Chem and Samsung SDI, manufacturers of secondary batteries. Roughly 2,500 tons of lithium carbonate can be used to produce about 70 million laptop batteries.
POSCO has become able to respond to environmental issues such as the recycling of used secondary batteries by receiving lithium phosphate, a raw material used at the PosLX Plant, from secondary battery recycling companies.
In January, test results of lithium carbonate first produced with lithium phosphate extracted from waste secondary batteries were verified to be equivalent to those of existing products in quality standards such as particle size, purity, charge and discharge efficiency and capacity. In the future, POSCO will independently produce lithium phosphate, a raw material for lithium carbonate, by securing it from salt lakes located abroad.
POSCO’s proprietary lithium extraction technology has been under development for seven years. POSCO’s lithium extraction technology is a method of converting lithium phosphate into lithium carbonate by extracting lithium phosphate from saline through chemical reaction. Unlike the conventional natural evaporative lithium extraction method, which takes 12 to 18 months on average, the new method takes less than 8 hours to one month at the longest.
The recovery rate of lithium also rose from 30-40% to more than 80%. The purity of lithium can be raised to 99.9% or more, and high-value products such as lithium hydroxide and potassium can be produced in parallel. POSCO has applied for more than 100 domestic and overseas patents related to lithium extraction.
As demand for lithium-ion secondary batteries has increased tremendously, worldwide demand for lithium carbonate for batteries has rapidly swelled from 6,000 tons (in 2002) to 66,000 tons (in 2015). Considering an increase in the use of electric vehicles and energy storage systems (ESSs) in the future, its demand will balloon to more than 180,000 tons by 2025.
POSCO plans to strengthen its position as a global lithium production base by establishing production systems with an annual production capacity of 40,000 tons of lithium at home and abroad, starting with the PosLX Plant at Gwangyang Works.
Separately, PSOC announced it will invest 300 billion won (US$261 million) in its anode materials business—POSCO ESM—by 2020. POSCO ESM currently supplies high-capacity anode materials to LG Chem. POSCO ESM is a joint venture between POSCO and Phoenix Materials.