LG Chem is increasingly turning to Chinese suppliers such as Shanghai Energy New Materials Technology Co. (Semcorp.) and Senior for lithium-ion battery separators (LiBS), industry sources said on June 28.
At the same time, the LG unit is reducing its reliance on SK Innovation. The two companies have a history of legal war. Recently, they sued each other for infringing trade secrets. In 2011, they fought over LiBS patents.
At its peak, SK Innovation had supplied 70% of LG Chem’s LiBS demands. But following the 2011 lawsuit, the proportion had tapered off, falling to 1% by 2017.
Separation film is considered one of the four key materials in batteries, along with anode, cathode and electrolyte. It determines the performance and safety of electric vehicle batteries and accounts for about 20% of the total cost of batteries – the highest after anode materials.
Price-wise, the separators from Semcorp. and Senior are about 60-70% of SK Innovation prices. Quality is a bit lower as well.
China has now overtaken South Korea and Japan as the world's largest producer for LiBS.
Semcorp. said it produced 1.32 billion square meters of the separators last year to beat out the 1.1 square meters achieved by No.1 producer Asahi Kasei of Japan. Industry watchers say the figures are partly due to LG Chem’s heavier reliance. SK Innovation is aiming for 1.21 square meters by 2021.
In May, LG Chem signed a five-year contract to receive $617 million worth. Considering that Semcorp. sold around 26 billion won (153 million yuan) worth of separators to LG Chem last year, this means the Chinese supplier will have to sell five times more than that for five years. Hence, the forecasts that LG Chem will prove to be a huge boon for Chinese battery material companies.
Industry sources believe costs are another reason the LG unit is upping business with the Chinese suppliers. "LG Chem’s demands involve getting bare film for a dollar or less per square meter,” said one industry watcher.