Rock Tech Lithium to build Europe’s first converter plant in Germany

14 October 2021

Rock Tech Lithium wants to build Europe’s first lithium converter plant in Germany, a move which could make car manufacturers in the region less dependent on supply from China. The German-Canadian cleantech company is part of a growing number of developers focusing on the European supply chain of lithium as the market for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) continues to boom.  

Rock Tech’s plant will be based in Guben, part of the state of Brandenburg – an electromobility cluster that is also home to Tesla and its gigafactory. The company said the location was ideal, with subsidies also playing a significant role in its decision. It had scoured other European locations but settled on Guben – a choice that was welcomed by local politicians.

‘With Rock Tech Lithium, we are strengthening our position as the future centre of European e-mobility,’ said Jörg Steinbach, Brandenburg’s minister for economic affairs, labour and energy. ‘Brandenburg will be home to the entire value chain in the future. From raw material processing to battery and cell production to e-car construction as well as battery recycling.’

€470 million investment

Rock Tech wants to produce around 24,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year – enough to equip 500,000 BEVs. Up to €470 million of investments could flow into factory units at Guben, where Rock Tech intends to combine all production steps of lithium refining. The converter plant is scheduled to start operations in 2024, and by 2030, the company aims to acquire 50% of its raw materials from recycling spent batteries.

Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Daimler and Stellantis are in a race to secure battery cell supplies in Europe. While more companies are intending to set up gigafactories on the continent – Italvolt, for instance, is building a large factory in Northern Italy – challenges remain. Finding enough battery raw materials is a key concern for carmakers as inadequate supplies of lithium and other metals could slow production of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) and threaten profit margins.

The German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA) said Europe, and especially Germany, are increasingly developing into hot spots for electromobility. In a recent report, the agency found that prices for lithium in Asia and Europe have jumped 40% since the beginning of 2021. It warned that supply needs to increase ‘massively’ by 2030.

The EU Commission meanwhile estimates that lithium demand in Europe will rise 18-fold by 2030 and as much as 60-fold by 2050. Raw material risk management has therefore become an important issue for OEMs. These are increasingly examining their entire supply chain in order to protect themselves from shortages and high price volatility.

Rock Tech is hoping to provide a sustainable raw material supply to the automotive industry. Its goal is to zero out emissions ‘one lithium battery at a time.’ The publicly-listed company will source its raw material in Canada and convert it into battery-grade lithium hydroxide in Germany, promising to close the gap in the supply chain for OEMs.

‘We are becoming the lithium partner of the automotive industry and are building our own, previously non-existent infrastructure for battery-grade lithium hydroxide in Europe,’ said Dirk Harbecke, Rock Tech Lithium CEO. ‘Our goal is to be the first company worldwide to create a closed loop for lithium.’