REUTERS IMPACT China's Huayou Cobalt seeks lithium as expands battery minerals portfolio

Batteries for electric vehicles are manufactured at a factory in Dongguan, China September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

BEIJING, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt (603799.SS) is seeking to invest in lithium mining and processing, its executive vice chairman told Reuters, as China's biggest cobalt refiner strives to expand its production of minerals for the electric vehicle (EV) market.

"We will pay more attention, not only in nickel and cobalt, but also lithium resources development, both inside China and outside of China," George Fang said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters IMPACT conference.

Huayou Cobalt was looking at lithium opportunities, along with its partners, in Africa, Australia, South America and China's western region Tibet. Fang did not disclose targeted assets or the possible size of deals.

"We want to be one of the leaders in the lithium battery material industry," Fang said of the company, which has nickel and cobalt projects in Indonesia and precursor and lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NCM) cathode projects in China.

Huayou Cobalt sources cobalt from Democratic Republic of Congo, which supplies over 70% of the world's cobalt.

The company's Chinese peers, including China Molybdenum (603993.SS), , Zijin Mining and Tsingshan Holding Group, are also looking to branch out into lithium.

PT Huayue, the company's first nickel and cobalt project using high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) technology on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia is a joint venture among Huayou, stainless steel giant Tsingshan Holding Group and China Molybdenum. It is on track to come online at the end of this year, Fang said.

Its other project at Weda Bay on Halmahera island using HPAL technology, which is designed to be less energy intensive, will join many such plants coming up in Indonesia, the world's biggest nickel miner.

Indonesia banned exports of nickel ore from 2020 to process more resources at home and set up a complete EV battery supply chain.

At the Weda Bay project, Huayou has annual capacity of about 120,000 tonnes in nickel content, double the size of the Huayue plant, and more than 10,000 tonnes of cobalt. It will take another two years to construct, Fang said.

He added the company planned to set up a solar power generator for this project and had decided against using deep-sea tailings management for its projects in Indonesia. read more

He expects this second HPAL project, which is a JV with Tsingshan and EVE Energy (300014.SZ) to be commissioned "roughly mid-2023, maybe a bit earlier" and said ramping up to full production may take six-to-12 months.

Huayou expects to reduce carbon emissions "significantly" in the next three-to-five years. Fang did not specify the size of the cuts, but said the company would be ahead of China's 2030 carbon peak and 2060 carbon neutral goals.

To watch the Reuters Impact conference, please register here

Reporting by Shivani Singh; editing by Barbara Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.