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China Looking to Speed Up Lithium Mining

As global demand for lithium soars with no signs of abating amid a global shift to battery-powered vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, the acceleration of lithium mining and extraction in China has been pushed by industry representatives at the annual Two Sessions policy-setting gatherings in Beijing.

With the current supply of lithium still tight, the exploration and development of domestic lithium resources should be stepped up to ensure the safety of the supply chain, said Zeng Yuqun, Member, 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. 

A chairman of a leading lithium miner and product manufacturer in China pointed out that the country should expedite the extraction of lithium resources in southwestern Sichuan province, one of China’s richest and most accessible reserves. Accelerating the development of lithium ore resources in Sichuan would complement Beijing’s inward-facing dual-circulation strategy. The industry leader also serves as a delegate of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature.

The sales of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) have shown a strong growth trend worldwide but continued use depends on effective Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based enabling technologies to link BEVs with its environment to provide information such as real-time battery charge levels, location of nearest charging infrastructure, and route options to optimize the battery.

Of particular interest is lithium for Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs), also called low-speed electric vehicles. A neighbourhood electric vehicle (NEV) is a battery-electric car that is capable of travelling at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour (mph) and has a maximum loaded weight of 3,000 lbs. China sold 5.5 million NEVs in December 2020 alone.

Further, Zeng elaborated that at the same time, related departments and companies should speed up independent innovation and scientific research into efficient utilisation of resource recycling to reduce reliance on resources.

With the market of lithium up and about, prices of battery metals have risen sharply worldwide since last year. The China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association disclosed almost 60% of spodumene crystal consumed by China annually to produce lithium salts is imported. Spodumene crystal is a material used to produce NEV batteries. The good news is the Chinese government is now working to help domestic enterprises withstand fluctuations in the raw materials market for NEVs.

At the Two Sessions, Zeng also suggested establishing a carbon footprint management system for NEV batteries to guide low-carbon development in the industry. He mentioned that European countries and the United States have done so: incorporating battery carbon footprint evaluation into their strategic plans and formulating relevant supporting regulations.

Dual-circulation strategy is an economic strategy that was raised by President Xi Jinping in 2020. He elaborated that China will rely on “internal circulation” – the domestic cycle of production, distribution, and consumption – for its development, supported by innovation and upgrades in the economy. Moreover, the Chinese leader disclosed that such “internal circulation” will be supported by “external circulation”. However, details on how exactly the strategy works have not been shared.

What is apparent, however, is how China has been transformed by technology today. Indeed, its digital transformation has been useful in its expanding electric car industry. ICT enabling technology plays a central role in the success of electric cars as it links EVs with their environment to provide needed information. In short, it allows these cars to function better.

Such faith in technology can be seen in China’s target of putting up as many as over 2 million 5G base stations all over the country by 2022. Nonetheless, it’s not just the car industry that has been given a shot in the arm by digitisation. As reported on OpenGov Asia, smart farming has arrived in the country, upgrading the way agriculture is run in China.

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