China Nickel and Steel Giant Answers Big Auto’s Call for Green EV Batteries

A Chinese group aiming to supply nickel for electric vehicles is planning a suite of renewable-energy plants in Indonesia to clean up its metal smelters and meet demands from carmakers for greener battery materials.

Tsingshan Holding Group Co., the world’s top producer of nickel and stainless steel, will build 2,000 megawatts of solar and wind capacity in the next three to five years in Indonesia, it said in a WeChat announcement on Monday. It’s also planning 5,000 megawatts of hydro power, it said without giving a timeline.

The company wants its battery-materials operations to be net-zero on carbon emissions, it said. The group last week unveiled plans to make battery-grade nickel from material previously reserved for stainless steel, a route that currently depends on smelters that consume large amounts of coal-fired power.

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“Green metal is very important for the EV market, especially for example in the U.S. or Europe,” Ellie Wang, analyst at CRU Group in Shanghai, said by phone. “If Tsingshan can stop depending on coal in Indonesia and get electricity from renewable sources, then it could address concerns” over emissions, she said.

Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk has repeatedly flagged the need for environmentally sound sources of nickel. Last year, he promised a “giant contract” to companies that could offer the right kind of supplies. Last month, he said nickel was the company’s biggest concern for scaling up battery output.

Nickel last week suffered its biggest two-day loss in a decade after Tsingshan’s latest battery-focused project was unveiled. The move opens up a big, new source of supply in Indonesia, which is trying to attract global EV and battery giants to set up factories.

“Tsingshan aims to provide sustainably produced nickel to the battery sector,” Allan Ray Restauro, analyst at BloombergNEF, said by email. “EV and battery manufacturers are increasingly more concerned about the nickel that enters their supply chains.”

In a separate email, Tsingshan said its existing plants in Indonesia producing nickel pig iron were among the cleanest of their kind in the world. Almost 100% of similar producers in the world rely on coal power, and Tsingshan’s method, in which hot metal is fed directly to stainless steel plants, reduces power consumption by 30%, it said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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