* Russian miner in talks with battery makers over investment
* Eyes cooperation further down the value chain
* Wants to use rising nickel, cobalt demand to its advantage (Updates throughout)
By Tom Daly
SHANGHAI, April 18 (Reuters) - Russia’s Norilsk Nickel , or Nornickel, is in talks with battery makers over possible investment in its mining assets, but is also interested in downstream joint ventures in return, a company executive said on Wednesday.
“We might be interested in having some deeper cooperation, say on the battery side, and building a more complete value chain,” Anton Berlin told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a battery materials conference in Shanghai.
Nornickel is looking for “more than just an offtake (sales) agreement,” he said, adding that a downstream joint venture in China would be a possibility.
Discussions are at an early stage however, and the company is “not in any rush,” he said.
Battery makers in China, the world’s biggest electric vehicle market, have been looking to buy equity stakes in overseas producers of battery ingredients such as cobalt, nickel and lithium in order to ensure critical supplies.
Companies from China, elsewhere in Asia and beyond have been to visit Nornickel assets with a view to making investments, Berlin said.
But he added: “We don’t need an investor in our existing mining assets. We are happy to own them and run them.”
“What we are trying to do is use the increasing demand for nickel and cobalt to our advantage and see if we can get something more than just an offtake agreement.”
“As you probably know, the Chinese are tough negotiators, so you don’t expect them to come and offer a generous deal at the first instance. It’s a process.”
Nornickel sees potential for the battery sector to become the second-biggest target market for nickel globally, behind stainless steel. Stainless steel now accounts for slightly less than half percent of the company’s nickel sales, versus 80 percent in around 2013.
“Batteries is something that catches the eye today. The other sectors for nickel are more traditional. They don’t experience the same exciting, double-digit growth,” Berlin added. (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue and Richard Pullin)