China's Greatpower to start producing nickel sulphate by end-2019 – chairman

Greatpower Technology Co, a Chinese supplier of chemicals for lithium-ion batteries, will start producing nickel sulphate from a plant in eastern China's Zhejiang province by the end of this year, its chairman said on Wednesday.

Nickel sulphate, like the sulphate form of sister metal cobalt, is a sought-after ingredient in cathodes for batteries used in electric vehicles, for which China's is the world's biggest market.

Greatpower's factory in the city of Shaoxing already produces 15,000 tonnes per year of cobalt sulphate but the rate will rise to 30,000 tonnes per year by August, chairman Cao Dongqiang told Reuters in an interview in Shanghai.

The nickel sulphate facilities, with annual capacity of 30,000 tonnes, are still under construction but will begin production in the second half of 2019, he added.

"Nickel sulphate is extremely popular," Cao said, adding that demand for the battery materials was still strong in China, even as the country scales back electric vehicle sector subsidies.

Production will be sold to companies that make precursors for lithium-ion batteries, Cao said. Such firms include Ningbo Shanshan and GEM Co, he added.

Greatpower, which imports nickel concentrate from countries including South Africa and sources all of its cobalt raw material from Democratic Republic of Congo, the world's top cobalt producer, is also on the lookout for mine investment opportunities to guarantee supply, Cao said.

"If it's copper and cobalt assets in Congo we'll consider it but we are not considering other places (for cobalt) for the time being," Cao said. Some discussions are already taking place over such investments, he added, without elaborating.

On the nickel side, the company is considering upstream investment in countries including Australia, Russia, Brazil and Canada, Cao said.

(By Tom Daly; Editing by Mark Potter)