China’s battery giant CATL is considering a bid for exploration rights to two domestic lithium mines in the southwestern Sichuan province. The electric vehicle battery maker recently established a new mining subsidiary to comply with the bidding process, a local media outlet has reported.
Why it matters: CATL’s interest in two new lithium mines signals its intention to further integrate upstream resources amid already-volatile battery supply chains.
However, CATL may find it hard to extract the abundant lithium resources in a safe and cost-efficient way due to poor geological conditions in the plateau areas, the report added, citing a Jan. 12 research note on lithium supply by Guosen Securities.
Details: CATL set up a new mining company called Maerkang Times Mining (our translation) through a subsidiary, with a registered capital of RMB 300 million ($42 million), according to the Chinese enterprise database Tianyancha.
The new firm has listed its main business interests as mineral resource exploration, development of new raw materials, as well as mineral washing and processing. CATL set up the entity with the intention to bid for two local lithium mines, state-owned media outlet The Paper reported on Monday.
This comes just days after China’s Ministry of Natural Resources kicked off bidding for exploration rights to two lithium mines in Maerkang city and nearby Jinchuan county on June 20. The two licenses will be put up for an unreserved auction at a combined starting price of RMB 3.76 million early next month, according to government filings.
Industry watchers expect the two mines to hold an impressive amount of lithium, as the China Geological Survey reported “significant findings” related to mineral resources in Maerkang during 2019-2020, with an estimated lithium oxide equivalent content of over 1.8%. Jinchuan reserve is expected to hold oxide content reaching 1.3%, the report said. CATL did not respond to TechNode’s request for comment.
Context: China’s surging adoption of EVs has in turn created more business moves in the mining space.
CATL in January reportedly secured regulatory approval for a massive RMB 6.4 billion acquisition of Sinuowei Mining Development Co. Ltd, a bankrupt lithium mining firm that has exploration rights to a local mine with an average grade of 1.18% lithium oxide in western Sichuan. This translates into a reserve of around 24.9 million tons of lithium ore.
Zhite New Materials, a lithium miner formerly backed by CATL, in February won an RMB 6.1 billion bid to develop lithium reserves in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Yicai reported. However, the firm failed to complete the transaction on time and in April was barred from upcoming auctions for three years by local regulators, Caixin reported.
Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices reached a peak of nearly RMB 600,000 per ton late last November before sinking to around RMB 180,000 in China in April. Lithium remains a wild ride for commodity investors as prices then bounced back to around RMB 300,000 on May 18, according to figures from industry consultancy Mysteel Group.