Australia’s mining state aims to build battery manufacturing hub

Tianqi’s Kwinana operation in Australia, the world’s largest lithium hydroxide plant. (Image courtesy of Tianqi Lithium)

Western Australia is seeking to lure more overseas investment to become a key battery manufacturer, promising financial backers from ally nations they will avoid limits on foreign ownership or repatriation of profits.

The battery minerals sector was an “essential element to Western Australia’s future, and particularly going downstream” in refining and battery manufacturing, the state’s Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston told business leaders at a conference in Perth Thursday.

“It is remarkable that we now have investors talking to us about every part of the value chain,” including battery manufacturing, Johnston said.

Western Australia is the country’s biggest mining state, with iron ore its top export. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of lithium, mostly through the sale of hard rock ore to China.

Earlier this year, Chinese lithium producer Tianqi Lithium Corp. opened the country’s first onshore lithium refinery near Perth, in a joint venture with local miner IGO Ltd. US lithium giant Albermarle Corp. and Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd. are also building refineries.

Australia exported 247,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent last year, almost all of it from Western Australia, according to government figures. But so far there has been little investment in battery manufacturing.

(By James Fernyhough)

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