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POSCO bets on lithium business

POSCO, the world’s fifth-largest steelmaker, has begun work on a lithium extraction plant in Argentina as part of its strategy to prioritize its business in the metal.

Upon the completion of the plant by the end of this year, the steelmaker plans to produce 2,500 tons of high-purity lithium a year. The metal is a key raw material in electric car batteries.

POSCO’s production goal is equivalent to manufacture more than 60,000 electric car batteries, as it takes about 40 kilograms of lithium to produce each battery. The Korean steelmaker plans to supply the metal to car battery manufacturers in Korea and overseas. 

Pozuelos Lake in Salta, Argentina, is estimated to hold 1.5 million tons of lithium. (POSCO)
Pozuelos Lake in Salta, Argentina, is estimated to hold 1.5 million tons of lithium. (POSCO)


The company will be applying advanced, environment-friendly extracting technology, POSCO chairman Kwon Oh-joon said at a groundbreaking ceremony held at Pozuelos Lake in Salta, Argentina on Feb. 14.

“The lithium processing business would generate new value in an eco-friendly way that would benefit both South Korea and Argentina,” said Kwon.

The chairman was referring to a high-efficiency lithium extraction technology developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The chemical lithium extraction method cuts recovery time from around 12 months to just eight hours. It also requires less space than the traditional evaporation technique. Kwon led the development team six years ago.

Before returning home, the chairman also met Argentine President Mauricio Macri in Buenos Aires to discuss the steelmaker’s lithium production and other businesses.

POSCO chairman Kwon Oh-joon (fourth from left) poses with local government officials at a ground-breaking ceremony in Salta, Argentina, on Feb. 14. (POSCO)
POSCO chairman Kwon Oh-joon (fourth from left) poses with local government officials at a ground-breaking ceremony in Salta, Argentina, on Feb. 14. (POSCO)


Market demand for lithium has grown at a fast pace, in line with the popularity of electric vehicles around the world.

The size of the lithium market has grown from 70,000 tons in 2002 to 170,000 tons in 2014. In 2020, the market is expected to grow to 270,000 tons a year, the steelmaker said in a statement.

Processed lithium for rechargeable batteries, a segment that POSCO has jumped into, accounts for nearly 50 percent of the lithium market. Korean suppliers of such batteries, however, have been reliant on foreign suppliers of lithium, often facing sudden cost increases.

With POSCO starting the business, some battery manufacturers have already asked for deals to acquire a stable supply of the material, it said.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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