China's Tsingshan, partners start work on Indonesia battery materials plant

* China's Tsingshan Group and partners including GEM Co Ltd on Friday announced the start of work on a $700 million battery chemicals project in Indonesia.

* A GEM spokesman said piling work began on Friday, while a joint statement said construction would start "as soon as possible after obtaining relevant approvals".

* A joint venture agreement on the project, situated in the Morowali Industrial Park on the island of Sulawesi, was signed on Sept. 28, 2018.

* Friday's statement gave no timeframe for the start of production and analysts have cast doubt on the possibility of a 2019 start-up as earlier guided by Japanese stakeholder Hanwa Co Ltd .

* "This project refines the key raw material for the preparation of ternary power batteries from the laterite nickel ore – battery-grade nickel-cobalt raw materials," the statement said. Tsingshan is Indonesia's top nickel producer.

* The plant will produce 50,000 tonnes of nickel hydroxide intermediates and 150,000 tonnes of battery-grade nickel sulphate crystals annually, as well as 20,000 tonnes of cobalt sulphate crystals and 30,000 tonnes of manganese sulphate crystals.

* Battery recycler Brunp, a unit of Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL), is also a partner in the project.

(By Fergus Jensen in Jakarta and Tom Daly in Beijing; Editing by Louise Heavens)