Australian lithium miner ready for ‘dynamic shift’ in EV battery supply chain amid US-China tensions

Su-Lin Tan
·4-min read

Australian miner Hawkstone Mining has successfully produced battery-grade raw lithium at its Arizona mine that would be valuable to US critical mineral and battery supply chains amid a global race to step up security in key sectors.

As the United States and China compete to secure supply chains that are key to the defence, technology and green energy sectors such as batteries and rare earth, Hawkstone said on Wednesday that lithium from its Big Sandy Lithium Project can be turned into top-grade lithium carbonate at “99.8 per cent purity”, exceeding the industry standard.

Lithium is a keystone metal in the manufacturing of electric vehicle (EVs) batteries, while battery-grade lithium carbonate is used to make the cathode material for lithium-ion batteries used in EVs.

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Hawkstone Mining

Hawkstone’s Big Sandy project, significant due to its location within a key battery production corridor in the US and to the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, can now move to drilling and the design of a production plant.

“The US departments of energy and defence are accelerating solicitations for Federal support of technology-based solutions and new sources to secure domestic supply chain security of critical battery metals. Hawkstone is well positioned to capitalise on this dynamic shift in Federal policy with its Big Sandy Sedimentary Lithium Project,” the company said in a statement.

Hawkstone said the development of lithium projects had long been a priority for the US government, particularly after the Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals executive order was signed 2017.

That focus was reinforced late last month when US President Joe Biden issued an executive order to review American supply chains and its reliance on overseas producers for semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, car batteries and rare earth elements.

The move comes as many countries seek to achieve self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on foreign suppliers, with China dominating the global production of EV lithium-ion batteries.

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Hawkstone also said that during his presidential campaign, Biden privately signalled to US miners that he would support the expansion of the domestic production of critical metals used to make EVs, solar panels, backup storage battery modules and other products crucial to the US’s climate plan.

“President Joe Biden has a ‘Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution’ which places America on the road to becoming the world’s clean energy superpower,” Hawkstone added.

Consequently, the price of lithium has risen rapidly, and aside from securing a stockpile, the growth in the EV sector has lifted global demand for lithium-ion batteries.

In China, sales of new energy vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles are expected to rise fifteenfold or more by 2035, with their share in total new car sales exceeding 80 per cent, energy analyst Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday.

As a result, China is also speeding up the establishment of a new nationwide charging network critical to EVs.

China’s two largest utility companies, State Grid Corporation of China and China Southern Power Grid, have invested almost US$1 billion to adapt and build the infrastructure, and these efforts are projected to make China the second largest market for charging infrastructure, second only to a combined European market, Wood Mackenzie added.

Europe too has been ramping up its battery supply chain alongside its global partners.

Earlier this week, graphite producer Bass Metals became the second Australian miner in two weeks to join the 500-member European Battery Alliance set up in 2017 to secure a domestic pan-European battery supply chain.

Two weeks ago, Australian-listed critical commodities specialist BlackEarth and its German-based graphite partner LuxCarbon GmbH also joined the alliance.

Bass Metals, which already sells graphite from its Madagascar mines in East Africa in Europe, said the membership will help it become a key global graphite supplier and allow it to collaborate with Europe on its goals to secure a strong lithium-ion battery supply chain.

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