Analysis and Commentary

The disappointment of overseas production – Lithium Australia

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

It is so disappointing when you have covered an emerging technology and manufacturing story for years when suddenly you find out that the company you have been covering decides to site actual production overseas.

It must be equally disappointing to readers.

One of the earliest examples of this in @AuManufacturing’s two and a half year history was redox flow battery developer, ASX-listed Redflow.

Developed by Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos at the University of New South Wales in the 1980s, redox flow batteries seemed headed for local commercialisation by Redflow until it announced it would manufacture in Thailand.

Redox flow batteries, which offer significant advantages in some uses such as remote locations and mine sites, are not made in Australia, though Australian Vanadium does make the electrolyte locally. (One advantage is the electrolyte does not degrade with use and can be endlessly reused).

Now Lithium Australia, which we have covered extensively, has decided to site the manufacturing of its proprietary lithium ferro phosphate battery product in India.

It is true Lithium Australia does other manufacturing locally.

There is its recycling of lithium-ion batteries by partner Envirostream which utilises CSIRO technology, and a company promise to evaluate the feasibility of local manufacture of battery packs as part of its venture importing Chinese made Soluna lithium ion batteries.

But the jewel in the crown was always the company’s development of lithium ferro phosphate battery cathodes which have been extensively developed in Australia, including at the Brisbane pilot plant (pictured) of its subsidiary VSPC.

VSPC has now completed a pre-feasibility study that looked at locating the company’s new lithium ferro phosphate (LFP) cathode powder plant in Australia, Vietnam and India.

A plant that can ramp up production to 10,000 tonne per annum over three years based on VSPC technology will now be located in India, where the financials stack up the best.

Such a plant has a net present value of US$253 million and offers an internal rate of return of 33 per cent.

No-one expects a public company to overlook the best site financially for siting a plant other than for supply chain security issues, perhaps.

But when a long-talked about Australian technology so readily goes offshore, you have to look at the company’s promise to establish a complete lithium ion supply chain from raw materials to recycling and manufacture by entering the Australian battery market.

Couldn’t this just as easily go offshore if the figures look best to do so?

Picture: Lithium Australia pilot plant in Brisbane – but the production plant is slated for India

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