By Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining is considering producing cathode battery materials in the United States among other options as it looks to expand output to meet demand from electric vehicles, an executive said on Thursday.
Sumitomo Metal, which supplies the nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) cathode materials for the Panasonic lithium-ion batteries used in Tesla EVs, is building a plant in Niihama, western Japan, to boost annual cathode production capacity by 24,000 metric tons in 2025 from 60,000 tons now.
“Where and when to increase our production capacity next time depends on each country’s regulations and laws,” Katsuya Tanaka, managing executive officer, told an analyst meeting.
“We are examining the impact from any changes to laws and regulations, including the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), will have on business, if we were to invest in the United States, especially with the presidential election coming up next year,” he said.
The IRA includes major provisions to cut carbon emission, boost domestic production and manufacturing.
Sumitomo Metal plans to bolster its annual output capacity to 120,000 tons by March 2028 and 180,000 tons by March 2031.
The company, which is also a miner and smelter, is also accelerating exploration of a new nickel mine, another executive said. It abandoned a long-running feasibility study on an Indonesian nickel project in Pomalaa.
Australia’s nickel sulphide explorer Ardea Resources said in July it has signed a non-binding agreement with a Japanese consortium to conduct a feasibility assessment at its Kalgoorlie Nickel Project Goongarrie Hub in Western Australia.
The consortium consists of Sumitomo Metal, Mitsubishi and Mitsui.
“Currently, we are evaluating Ardea’s report on the preliminary study while discussing about a more detailed study,” said Masaru Takebayashi, managing executive officer.
“We are still in the preliminary study stage and whether we will join the project depends on the outcome of the studies,” he said, adding the company is also scrutinizing a few other projects.
Sumitomo Metal is targeting to boost annual nickel output capacity to 150,000 tons in a long-term from 82,000 tons now.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by David Evans)