Chinese firms now control more than 75% of the electrolyte solution market, according to the Tokyo-based Yano Research Institute. Electrolyte solution is a key component in the manufacture of lithium-ion battery cells.
This state of things represents a substantial shift from the situation of only a decade or so ago, when Japanese firms represented the industry leaders and a number of firms located elsewhere had a notable presence as well.
This shift has been mirrored in many other industries, of course, as Chinese firms have expanded rapidly in recent decades on the backs of cheap local labor and lax environmental standards, amongst other things.
When it comes to lithium-ion battery components, in addition to the electrolyte solution market, Chinese firms control over 75% of the anode materials market, over 62% of the cathode materials market, and 45% of the separators market.
With the lithium-ion battery market set to explode over the coming years as the sales of electric vehicles and home energy storage systems surge, the firms in China controlling electrolyte solutions production stand to benefit greatly.
Here’s more on the subject from Nikkei Asian Review: “As the country charges ahead with the production of smartphones, electrolyte makers have been racing to mass-produce low-cost components for the consumer Li-ion market. Chinese manufacturers are also the dominant players for other battery components, namely separators and materials for cathodes and anodes.
“… For would-be manufacturers of Li-ion battery components, the electrolyte solution market is the easiest to enter because neither high-level skills nor technologies are required for production, according to an executive at a major chemical maker. The electrolyte solution is the medium that allows the transport of ions between the two electrodes. It is typically made from lithium salts dissolved in organic solvents.
“Easy market entry and stiff competition have forced former leaders to reconsider strategies. Japan’s Ube Industries, which once fed roughly half of global demand for commercial electrolyte solutions, last year decided to integrate its Chinese operations with Mitsubishi Chemical after years of losses.
“China is home to more than 40 battery makers, giving the country a definite advantage in the industry. And more companies are crowding in from other sectors. Ningbo Shanshan — formerly known as an apparel maker — is one of them. Eager to cash in on the battery boom, the company is now constructing a roughly 60 billion yen ($550 million) plant for producing anode materials, according to local media. The facility, slated to open in 2019, would be the largest of its kind with an annual output of about 100,000 tons.”
Japanese firms are apparently planning similarly extreme expansions, though, with producer Hitachi Chemical reportedly now investing ¥10 billion over the next 5 years in order to quadruple its electrolyte solutions production capacity.
This increase in production capacity mostly relates to plants located in North America, interestingly. I suppose that Hitachi Chemical is expecting electric vehicle sales in North America to be much higher than in Japan?