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POSCO begins lithium production first time in Korea

Feb. 07, 2017
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  • - Completes PosLX Plant with annual capacity of 2500 tons
    - CEO Kwon "POSCO will foster its energy material business"
    - Production of Lithium carbonate from used secondary batteries contributes to ecosystem

    POSCO entered commercial production of lithium for the first time in Korea in 7 years since developing its own technology.


    On February 7, POSCO held a ceremony for the completion of a PosLX (POSCO Lithium Extraction) plant with an annual capacity of 2,500 tons at its lithium plant at Gwangyang Works.


    The ceremony was attended by more than 100 people including POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon, Ung-beom Lee, president of LG Chem, Nam-seong Cho, president of Samsung SDI, Gi-jong Woo, deputy governor of South Jeolla Province, Hyun-bok Jeong, mayor of Gwangyang and Jong-joo Kim, director of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.


    ▶ On February 7, POSCO began commercial production of lithium for the first time in Korea after holding the completion ceremony of the PosLX Plant at Gwangyang Works. From the left are Jae-chun Song, chairman of Gwangyang City Council, Hyun-bok Jeong, mayor of Gwangyang, Gi-jong Woo, deputy governor of South Jeolla Province, POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon, Ung-beom Lee, president of LG Chem and Nam-seong Cho, president of Samsung SDI who can be seen pressing down buttons for the completion of the plant.


    "Our vision and enthusiasm for our future growth business enabled us to make this achievement in spite of many difficulties and limitations,” POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon said. "We are planning to foster future new growth businesses by differentiating our technological competitiveness in the energy material business such as lithium for batteries, the development of high purity nickel and positive electrode materials for cathode materials as well."


    "Korea imports all lithium carbonate for batteries despite being a world-class producer of secondary batteries," said Jong-joo Kim, the director of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. "Today’s completion of the plant will empower POSCO to produce lithium carbonate for batteries on its own, relieving secondary battery makers of worries about securing quality raw materials.


    The PosLX Plant, completed on the same day, will produce 2,500 tons of lithium carbonate per year and supply it to POSCO ESM which produces cathodes for secondary batteries, and LG Chem and Samsung SDI, manufacturers of secondary batteries. Roughly 2,500 tons of lithium carbonate can be used to produce about 70 million laptop batteries. Korean rechargeable battery makers have relied on imports because Korea is devoid of domestic lithium suppliers, but POSCO's PosLX Plant will now be able to solve Korean rechargeable battery makers’ difficulties in securing raw material supplies.


    POSCO has become able to respond to environmental issues such as the recycling of used secondary batteries by receiving lithium phosphate, a raw material used at the PosLX Plant, from secondary battery recycling companies. In January, test results of lithium carbonate first produced with lithium phosphate extracted from waste secondary batteries were verified to be equivalent to those of existing products in quality standards such as particle size, purity, charge and discharge efficiency and capacity. In the future, POSCO will independently produce lithium phosphate, a raw material for lithium carbonate, by securing it from salt lakes located abroad.


    ▶ POSCO CEO Ohjoon Kwon and others are being briefed about the lithium production process while taking a tour of PosLX Plant.


    POSCO's proprietary lithium extraction technology dates back seven years. POSCO’s lithium extraction technology is a method of converting lithium phosphate into lithium carbonate by extracting lithium phosphate from saline through chemical reaction. Unlike the conventional natural evaporative lithium extraction method, which takes 12 to 18 months on average, the new method takes less than 8 hours to one month at the longest.


    The recovery rate of lithium also rose from 30-40% to more than 80%, which is more economical. The purity of lithium can be raised to 99.9% or more, and it is also advantageous that high-value products such as lithium hydroxide and potassium can be produced in parallel. POSCO has applied for more than 100 domestic and overseas patents related to lithium extraction.


    As demand for lithium-ion secondary batteries has increased explosively thanks to the continuous expansion of mobile products, worldwide demand for lithium carbonate for batteries has rapidly swelled from 6,000 tons (in 2002) to 66,000 tons (in 2015). Considering an increase in the use of electric vehicles and energy storage systems (ESSs) in the future, its demand will balloon to over 180,000 tons by 2025. POSCO plans to strengthen its position as a global lithium production base by establishing production systems with an annual production capacity of 40,000 tons of lithium at home and abroad, starting with the PosLX Plant at Gwangyang Works.

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