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GM, Posco Chemical Partner For North American Production Of Battery Cathode Materials

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General Motors has already announced plans for $35 billion of investment in vehicle electrification through 2025 that includes 20 new battery electric vehicles for the North American market and 30 models globally. As part of that effort, GM

GM
is shifting aggressively toward vertical integration of key components including the batteries, motors and other components. The latest announcement from the automaker is a new joint venture with South Korea’s Posco Chemical that will process the cathode active materials (CAM). 

Lithium ion cells are composed of four main components, cathodes, anodes, separators and electrolyte. The cathode is made by coating an aluminum foil with the CAM which typically consists of a slurry containing a variety of materials blended with lithium that comprise the chemistry. Most EVs today use a nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) mixture. GM has developed a nickel-manganese-cobalt-aluminum (NMCA) mix for its new Ultium cells which reduces the cobalt content by about 80%. Ultimately GM wants to get to a cobalt-free blend. 

According to Doug Parks, executive vice-president for product development at GM, the CAM comprises about 40% of the cost of cells. Posco had already reached deals with GM and its Ultium Cells LLC joint venture LG Energy Solutions to provide both cathode and anode materials. The first Ultium Cells factory in Lordstown, Ohio will begin volume production in 2022, followed by a second plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Two additional plants are planned by 2025. 

The new venture between GM and Posco will result in a new CAM processing facility being constructed in North America with production targeted for 2024. A site for the CAM processing plant is expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2022. When the facility is operational it is expected to supply most of the CAM required for the first four Ultium Cells factories. 

The joint-venture CAM plant will take in precursor materials produced at other facilities and process them into the mixture required for cell production. GM is also working to source those precursor materials such as the lithium produced from geothermal brine from the Salton Sea in California. GM announced a partnership with Controlled Thermal Resources earlier this year for that carbon-free lithium extraction process. As Ultium Cells begins production next year, GM also has a joint venture with Li-Cycle to recover materials from production scrap and eventually from end-of-life batteries. Those materials will also eventually go back into the production stream for new batteries.

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