Business / Companies

Lithium carbonate maker's profits soar 90%

By Yang Ziman (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-12 08:24

The country's biggest lithium carbonate manufacturer by output has seen its profits soar, driven by a growing demand for new-energy vehicles.

Sichuan Tianqi Lithium Industries Inc had a net profit of 248 million yuan in 2015, up almost 90 percent from the end of 2014.

Its net profit in the first three months of this year stood at nearly 288 million yuan ($38.34 million), up more than 800 percent from the same period last year, with the company attributing it to the growing demand in the lithium ion battery market.

Lithium carbonate, the key raw material in the battery, has seen its prices increase by large margins as the government enhances its support for new-energy vehicles.

According to data from, a bulk commodity information website, the price of lithium carbonate had increased from 40,000 yuan per ton in the beginning of 2015 to 100,000 yuan per ton by the end of 2015. The price at the moment is around 130,000 yuan per ton, up nearly 230 percent from the beginning of last year.

In 2015, China's output of new-energy vehicle stood at 379,000 units, accounting for 55 percent of the global output. In the same year, lithium ion battery output in China was 47.13 gigawatt hours, accounting for 46.78 percent of global output.

Electric-vehicle makers enjoy subsidies from the governments, which has significantly driven up the output of the vehicles.

China has 3.83 million tons of lithium reserve, mainly in salt lakes, accounting for 17 percent of the world's total reserves, according to the mineral research center of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

However, exploitation of the mineral remains quite slow due to environmental and technological obstacles, said Li Bingxin, deputy secretary-general of the lithium committee of the China NonFerrous Metals Industry Association.

"The construction cycle of a site to exploit lithium reserves in a mountainous area is around three to five years. Such a cycle for lithium reserves in salt lakes is even longer, about five to seven years. The lithium prices will fluctuate at a high level this year," said Li.

According to a report by Beijing-based China Securities Co Ltd, lithium carbonate is going to be in short supply for the remainder of this year. The inventory with manufacturers has remained low since December, and yet the demand remains high. Moreover, the exploitation of lithium in salt lakes had to be suspended in winter from December to January, the report added. The technologies for lithium exploitation are highly sophisticated, resulting in limited and slow new capacity creation. Therefore, the shortage in production capacity will continue to push up the price of lithium carbonate, said the report.

At the same time, Fang Jianhua, general manager of Hefei Guoxuan High-tech Power Energy Co Ltd, has warned of possible overcapacity in lithium-related industries.

"Though more enterprises try to hop on the wagon of growing lithium demand, the high-quality production capacity is lacking," said Fang at a recent electricity vehicle forum.

According to the China Passenger Car Association, China's new-energy passenger vehicle sales rose 107 percent year-on-year, with 39,500 sold in the first quarter. The pure electric cars sold 24,700 units, up 125 percent year-on-year.

Du Xiaoying contributed to this story.

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