EV Metals Group

Building a downstream battery chemicals processing hub in Saudi Arabia for the global energy transition



Since visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2019, EV Metals Group (EVM) has been focused on developing the world’s first integrated Battery Chemicals Complex in the Middle Eastern country, after witnessing its ambitious plans to fully diversify the economy under Saudi Vision 2030. The opportunity to start a global battery chemicals and technology business in a region with easy access to key markets in Europe, Asia Africa and (to a lesser extent) North America was too good to ignore even then, as the global clean energy transition was just beginning to crank into gear. The COVID-19 pandemic has since provided fresh impetus for the low carbon economy, which is currently being built on the widespread electrification of the energy and transport sectors. In recent years, electric vehicle (EV) take-up has mostly trended in China, Europe and North America, however the latter two regions are sorely lacking key components along the entire EV manufacturing supply chain, but particularly at the downstream level. EVM aims to reduce Europe and North America’s reliance on China for battery materials processing by building the Battery Chemicals Complex in Saudi Arabia’s new Yanbu Industrial City. RGN’s editor sat down with EVM CEO Michael Naylor to find out more about the symbolic development.


Jacob Ambrose Willson: EVM is building a global battery chemicals and technology business. What were the key drivers behind this focus on the battery section of the global clean energy transition?


Michael Naylor: We are witnessing government intervention at a global scale unprecedented in the history of humankind towards a clean energy future. This is propelling ambitious targets in the transformation to electrification globally. EVM’s strategic objective is to capture a growing share of the battery chemicals business as structural deficits in supply emerge in markets worldwide over the remainder of the decade.


Our business model is based on the diversification and geopolitical alignment of supply chains for OEMs in growth markets in Europe and North America. They are looking to secure long term, stable and transparent supplies of high purity chemicals and cathode active materials required in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy storage.


EVM is focused on delivering the world’s first integrated Battery Chemicals Complex comprising of a Lithium Chemicals Plant, a Nickel Chemicals Plant and a Cathode Active Materials Plant to meet this growing demand.


JAW: Why is Saudi Arabia the perfect location for the company’s first integrated Battery Chemicals Complex, and particularly Yanbu Industrial City on the Western coast?


MN: The infrastructure in Saudi Arabia is first class and the vast oil wealth means it has all the elements needed to build a successful battery chemicals industry. Yanbu Industrial City is strategically located near the largest port on that side of the country, with easy access to Europe and North America for imports and exports.


Our journey to and in the Kingdom began in 2019 and led us to Saudi Vision 2030, a national initiative to transform the economy of the Kingdom from being a global leader in energy based on fossil fuels to a global leader in energy based on renewables. The breakthrough for EVM was found in the aspirations of Vision 2030 and led us to the development of midstream and downstream processing facilities for the production of cathode active materials.


We are fast tracking the staged development and expansions of the Battery Chemicals Complex to include four processing trains in the Lithium Chemicals Plant to produce 100,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM) and three processing trains in the Nickel Chemicals Plant to produce 450,000 tpa of nickel sulphate. Construction of the first two processing trains for production of LHM will start in Q1 2023. This will closely be followed by the Nickel Chemicals Plant and the Cathode Active Materials Plant.


JAW: What has shaped the decision for the company to focus on producing high energy density cathode active materials, as well as lower energy density cathode active materials at the Battery Chemicals Complex?


MN: Cathode active materials require high purity chemicals in the form of lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM) and nickel, cobalt and manganese (NCM) sulphate for high energy density batteries. High energy density cathode active materials are required for high performance with longer driving distances between recharges. Whereas lower energy density cathode active materials containing lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP) provide lower driving distances between recharges.


EVM will specialise in the production of high energy density cathode active materials but will also develop capacity for production of LFP.


Benchmark Minerals Intelligence forecasts structural deficits in the supply of lithium hydroxide monohydrate and nickel sulphate, the key chemicals required for high energy density cathode active materials, commencing in 2024/25 and 2027/28 respectively.


There is a massive investment at OEM level by EV manufacturers and battery cell manufacturers. However, the level of investment in the upstream supply chain for critical raw materials is not sufficient to supply the demand growth. Ultimately, this leaves new OEMs completely exposed to supply, pricing and cost risks.


JAW: How will the company ensure security of supply for the raw materials (nickel, cobalt, manganese, lithium) while the Saudi battery supply chain lacks the upstream element?


MN: EVM is moving forward with the development of the Battery Chemicals Complex based on the upstream integration of supply chains through production of and life of mine offtake agreements for intermediate products containing lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, aluminium and other metals from Western Australia.


Western Australia is a politically stable jurisdiction with low sovereign risk and transparent supply chains. It is the largest producer of lithium in the form of spodumene concentrate for global markets. It is also the largest producer of nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements in Australia.


EVM will bring world class, leading technical capabilities, technology and know-how from Western Australia for the development of the Saudi supply chain and the Battery Chemicals Complex.


We have recently launched the Australian Lithium Alliance, a strategic initiative to partner with Australian companies to accelerate exploration, development, mining, processing and production of Lithium Minerals. This will be implemented by the Australian Lithium Alliance Pty Limited (ALA), a wholly owned subsidiary of EVM, through joint ventures and offtake agreements as an alternative to Chinese companies that currently dominate the purchase of spodumene concentrate from Australia to supply chemicals processing companies in China.


As part of ALA, EVM has entered into an Earn-in Joint Venture agreement with Zenith Minerals Limited (ZNC) to accelerate the exploration for, and production of spodumene concentrate from Zenith’s Split Rocks and Waratah Well Tenements.


EVM also owns 100% of the Range Well Nickel Cobalt Resource located in the Midwest of Western Australia. The Range Well Resource will produce mixed hydroxide precipitate containing nickel, cobalt and manganese at an MHP Plant within the mining tenements in Western Australia. The MHP will be shipped to the Nickel Chemicals Plant for downstream processing to produce high purity chemicals in Saudi.


JAW: How will EV Metals help Saudi Arabia develop its own raw materials supply, via mineral exploration and the development of mining projects?


MN: EVM has entered into an agreement with the National Industrial Development Centre (NIDC) for the development of a Saudi supply chain for critical raw materials in the Kingdom.


RIWAQ Al Mawarid for Mining, a subsidiary of our company in the Kingdom, has applied for 18 exploration licences in five areas with potential critical raw materials containing lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group metals and rare earth elements for development of the Saudi supply chain for the Battery Chemicals Complex.


NIDC is our lead agency in the Kingdom. It guides EVM in ongoing engagements with other lead agencies in the Kingdom including the Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Investment to accelerate the development of the Battery Chemicals Complex and the Saudi supply chain in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030.


JAW: How useful was the recent Future Minerals Forum, in terms of focusing conversations and investments on developing the Saudi mining and battery materials supply chains?


MN: FMF was a strategic platform for us to establish EVM as a frontrunner in the global battery chemicals and technology industry. It opened significant doors for EVM with key stakeholders from the Kingdom, as well as investors and the media. We are grateful to the Ministers and their lead agencies for their efforts to recognise the Battery Chemicals Complex as a project of national strategic importance for the Kingdom.


It was acutely apparent at FMF that there is a need to address the critical gap in the supply chain for raw materials. EVM was the only company focusing on this issue and we are aware that further dialogue needs to take place to ensure it doesn’t become the bottleneck in slowing down the transformation to electrification and a clean energy future.


JAW: How much of a big step forward was the recent announcement of a FEED agreement with a subsidiary of Australia’s Wood Group, in terms of progressing the Battery Chemicals Complex to construction stage?


MN: Wood Plc have world-class technical capabilities and experience in delivering LHM plants in Western Australia and have been working with us for the last two years on feasibility studies for our unique Battery Chemicals Complex.


The FEED agreement with Wood is for the first two processing trains of our Lithium Chemicals Plant at the Battery Chemicals Complex, producing 50,000 tpa of LHM. It is designed to process spodumene concentrate containing 6% lithium oxide imported from upstream spodumene concentrators in Western Australia.