May 17, 2019 / 6:19 AM / a month ago

Japan's SMM aims to double battery material capacity in nine years

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese miner and smelter Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd (SMM) aims to more than double its production capacity of cathode materials used in batteries for automobiles by March 2028, its president Akira Nozaki said on Friday.

The logo of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co is pictured at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ritsuko Shimizu

SMM, which also makes electrical materials, supplies the nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) cathode materials used in Panasonic Corp’s lithium-ion battery that powers Tesla Inc’s Model 3 and Model X cars.

The Japanese company plans to boost its output capacity of cathode materials to 10,000 tonnes a month by end-March 2028, from 4,550 tonnes a month now, Nozaki told an analyst meeting.

Although, he added that there was not yet a concrete plan in place that specified investment amounts and timing.

SMM has spent 37 billion yen ($337 million) over the past few years to boost its NCA output capacity from 850 tonnes a month to 4,550 tonnes.

“Demand for secondary batteries used in automobiles is expanding as electric vehicles are becoming more popular,” Nozaki said.

“We will closely look at the market and customer trends to decide next steps while continuing full production,” he said,

The company has its hands full now to meet demand from its main customers such as Panasonic and Toyota Motor Corp , Nozaki said.

Under a long-term plan through March 2022, SMM also aims to raise annual output from its global mine holdings to 300,000 tonnes of copper concentrate and 150,000 tonnes of nickel metal.

The recent purchase of a 25 percent stake in Chile’s Quebrada Blanca copper mine from Teck Resources Ltd would help it achieve the copper target, Nozaki said, but it would need to seek new opportunities in nickel.

SMM, together with nickel miner PT Vale Indonesia, is conducting a feasibility study to build a nickel processing plant in Pomalaa, Southeast Sulawesi, in Indonesia, with an aim to make a final investment decision by end-March 2020, he said.

If that project goes ahead, it is expected to produce 40,000 tonnes of mixed sulfides through an investment of several billion of U.S. dollars in total, with a target to start operation in the mid-2020s.

SMM has given up an earlier goal to boost its annual gold output through its holdings to 30 tonnes by the 2021/22 financial year from 8.7 tonnes in 2018/19, but it will continue to seek to buy new quality assets, Nozaki said.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Tom Hogue

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