On 12 May, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that China’s XTC New Energy Materials plans to set up a joint venture in the battery sector with France’s Orano in the northern French port city of Dunkirk, with an expected investment of 1.5 billion euros.

The main business of XTC New Energy Materials is the research, development, production and sales of lithium-ion battery cathode materials, and its current main products include lithium cobaltate and nickel-cobalt-manganese ternary materials. According to AFP, Macron met with Jiang Long, director and general manager of XTC New Energy Materials, in Guangzhou during his visit to China in April this year.

XTC New Energy Materials has been pursuing an expansion path in recent years. In August 2022, the battery material supplier announced a RMB 2.4 billion investment in a new plant in southeastern China to meet the fast-growing demand for cathode materials. The plant will be built in Ningde, where battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology is headquartered, to increase production capacity of 70,000 tons of ternary cathode material per year. The project is scheduled to be completed in August 2025. And in September 2021, XTC New Energy Materials also announced a RMB 10 billion cathode material expansion plan for Sichuan province in southwestern China. The plant will eventually be able to produce 60,000 tons of ternary cathode material and 100,000 tons of lithium iron phosphate. The first phase of this project should be completed by 2024. The new joint venture with Orano is another milestone in the expansion of XTC New Energy Materials.

Macron made the announcement in Dunkirk, where he also officially announced that China Taiwan’s battery maker ProLogium will invest 5.2 billion euros in a new mega-factory in the city. proLogium plans to start building the plant in Dunkirk from the middle of next year, with the goal of starting mass production of next-generation electric car batteries in 2027.

ProLogium CEO Vincent Yang (2L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (3L) pose for a group photo at the Dunkirk Urban Community offices in Dunkerque, the city picked by Taiwanese company ProLogium to build a battery gigafactory plant, northern France, on May 12, 2023. (Photo by PASCAL ROSSIGNOL / POOL / AFP)

Macron said, „We have just signed a second investment in a joint venture with XTC New Energy Materials and Orano for the production of cathode materials for lithium batteries.“ He added that it will create 1,700 jobs.

Lithium is a key mineral essential for the production of batteries. The competition for control of future lithium mines has become a major geopolitical challenge. Lithium is involved in the manufacturing process of battery cathodes. In short, if there is a dominant player in battery cathode manufacturing that has the ability to cut off a key component at any time, then even building a giant factory like Tesla’s to meet the exponential growth in demand for electric vehicles is a waste of effort.

The cathode material consists of cobalt, nickel and manganese and is the main component of lithium batteries. Macron stressed that the joint venture would allow France to secure the top of the value chain for lithium battery production.

Europe, including France, which has long played the role of passive and assertive customer in the logistics segment of globalization, is now also on the path of transformation. In January of this year, Philippe Varin, the Vice President of the International Chamber of Commerce, warned of France’s dependence on key metal resources and pointed to several urgent future directions, such as the establishment of a strategic reserve of rare metals, to „develop a real metals diplomacy“.

epa08556170 Workers at a production line of lithium-Ion coin batteries at a factory of the battery manufacturer Varta in Noerdlingen, Bavaria, Germany, 20 July 2020. EPA-EFE/LUKAS BARTH-TUTTAS

Macron said the joint venture between ProLogium and XTC New Energy Materials/Orano will create 5,000 new jobs in Dunkirk. „It’s fair to say that there is a developing ecosystem for batteries in northern France,“ said the vice president for international development at Prologium.

Orano said that the company will officially announce the details of the joint venture project during the Choose France Summit which was launched by Macron to introduce and explain to large multinational companies the reforms implemented in France and to enhance the country’s economic attractiveness.

As France strives to move to a low-carbon economy and rely more heavily on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, lithium batteries play a critical role in energy storage. These batteries can store excess electricity generated during periods of peak production and release it during times of high demand, ensuring a steady supply of clean energy.

(Source: rtl, brgm, l’Obs, Alvinet)