Tech Insights

GM Scaling EV Production: Unveiling the Australian Manganese Connection

July 12, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

The carmaker has signed an agreement with Element 25 to process manganese from Australia into battery precursor material in a new plant located in Louisiana. 

General Motors Co. (GM) has reached an agreement with Australia-based Element 25 Limited to annually supply up to 32,500 metric tons of manganese sulfate, which will be used to support the yearly production of more than one million GM electric vehicles (EVs) in North America.

 

All-electric Silverado

All-electric Silverado. Image used courtesy of General Motors 

 

Element 25 operates its 100 percent-owned Butcherbird Manganese Project in Western Australia. The company’s primary business has been to ship manganese oxide concentrate to partners in the traditional steel-making industry. Element 25 has developed an innovative, proprietary, low-cost process that can convert manganese concentrate from its Australian mines into battery grade high purity manganese sulfate monohydrate (HPMSM). Manganese sulfate is a precursor for battery cathode active material (CAM), which will become critical as European and North American carmakers source battery materials from countries other than China. 

 

North American Manganese Production

GM will provide Element 25 with an $85 million loan for constructing a new 230,000-square-foot facility for producing battery-grade manganese sulfate in Louisiana starting in 2025. Manganese concentrates from its mining operations in Australia will be processed at the facility, which is expected to be the first of its kind in the U.S.  

Manganese is the 25th element on the Periodic Table, giving the Australian company its name. It is the 12th most common element in the Earth’s crust, and the metal is a critical component in steelmaking, where it is used to increase both the tensile strength and the hardenability of the steel. About 85 to 90 percent of current manganese ore production is used in steel, while battery and other applications in the chemical industry account for between 5 and 10 percent of production. Around 78 percent of the world’s manganese resources are in South Africa. Australia is a growing source of manganese—between 2013 and 2018, manganese ore mining in Australia grew by 4 percent, and revenue is expected to grow by 1.4 percent over the next five years.

 

Manganese

Manganese. Element 25 of the periodic table of chemical elements. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock

 

Manganese in Lithium-ion Batteries

The lithium-ion batteries powering laptops, cell phones, and EVs use a cathode made from nickel, magnesium, and cobalt (NMC). When used in EVs, NMC lithium-ion batteries have high energy and power density, providing high performance and a long range between charging. The manganese in an NMC battery typically makes up 20-30 percent of the cathode material, and the material is much less expensive to mine and produce than the nickel and cobalt that make up the rest of the cathode. 

 

Building More EVs

As car companies scale their EV production, raw material demand will dramatically increase. The Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022 provides incentives for EV purchases, but only if the vehicles and their battery systems are produced in the U.S. or by one of its preferred trading partners. Australia falls into this category, so making manganese sulfate using ore from Australia helps keep the cost of purchasing an EV attractive for GM’s customers. 

In addition to the manganese deal, GM is working on other aspects of its lithium-ion battery supply base. The company has announced direct investments in lithium and nickel operations and works with companies that produce cathode active materials and other battery precursors. Along with battery partners, it is building 160 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of battery cell manufacturing capacity to produce more than one million EVs annually by 2025 and to convert half of its North American production capacity to EVs by 2030.