Prospects dim for BASF cathode active materials plant in Bécancour
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EV Supply Chain
Jan 16, 2024
John Lorinc

Despite announcing the Quebec project in early 2022, BASF now says it is continuing “to evaluate the best location” for a CAM plant in North America

A little less than two years after German chemical giant BASF announced plans for a major cathode active materials (CAM) facility in Quebec, the company appears to have put that investment on hold, Electric Autonomy has learned. Photo: Société du parc industriel et portuaire de Bécancour/Facebook

Despite announcing the Quebec project in 2022, BASF confirms it continues “to evaluate the best location” for a North American CAM plant

A little less than two years after German chemical giant BASF announced plans for a major cathode active materials (CAM) facility in Quebec, the company appears to have put that investment on hold, Electric Autonomy has learned.

“At this time, BASF is continuing to evaluate the best location for a cathode active materials and battery recycling hub in North America,” Daniela Lopera, a company spokesperson said in an email. “Due to business confidentiality, BASF cannot provide any further information.”

That statement is a far cry from the company’s bullishness back in March 2022. At that time BASF revealed it acquired a site in Bécancour Industrial Park, on the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City. The company described the venue as “an ideal location” for a North American CAM and battery recycling plant.

Since then, Bécancour landed two other large CAM projects — Ultium CAM (GM and Posco) and EcoPro CAM Canada (Ford, EcoPro BM, SK ON) — and a host of other critical minerals processors. Meanwhile, closer to Montreal, Swedish battery maker Northvolt is building a $7-billion battery factory.

A blow despite momentum

Such momentum means BASF’s apparent reversal is unlikely to undermine Quebec’s linchpin status in North American’s EV battery supply chain. But with another $15 billion in EV and battery investments still in the provincial pipeline, according to recent comments by Investissement Québec director Guy LeBlanc, it would be a blow, nonetheless.

Officials with Investissement Québec and the Bécancour Industrial Park did not respond to requests for comment by Electric Autonomy. In the federal government’s Fall Economic Statement, released in late November, the plant was still listed as “in development.” About the same time, in an interview with Canadian Press, LeBlanc said BASF was struggling to “find partners in the automotive sector.”

BASF’s approach in recent years for developing CAM plants in other markets has been to co-locate them with recycling facilities. The recycling line takes in spent lithium-ion batteries from consumer electronics and EVs. That geographical pairing approach — which the company promotes as a circular economy strategy — appears to have driven the Quebec project.

Since securing the Bécancour site, however, its battery component division is active with plant openings, partnerships and corporate restructuring. The firm’s latest U.S. project, in fact, suggests that co-location may not be integral to its North American plans.

Strategic shift followed spin off

Last fall, BASF spun off its battery materials unit into a stand-alone division operating separately from the company’s other segments. In a statement, the firm cited differing profitability expectations among its various business lines.

That move came fast on the heels of the opening of a major CAM-recycling plant in Schwarzheide, Germany. It is described as the first such co-located operation in Europe. At the opening BASF officials said they’ve already signed several years’ worth of off-take agreements with EV OEMs.

“We will continue to close the loop and invest in our production and recycling capacities globally to meet the demand of our customers for high-performance cathode active materials with a low CO2 footprint,” Dr. Peter Schuhmacher, who is responsible for BASF’s Battery Materials and Recycling business and President of the Catalysts division, said in a statement.

Then, this past September, BASF announced a four-way partnership with California-based Nanotech Energy, American Battery Technology Company (ABTC), a lithium-ion battery recycling company in Reno, Nev., and Ontario-based TODA Advanced Materials Inc. (TODA makes input materials for CAM.) That project, according to BASF, will begin producing CAM black mass using recycled materials this year. It’s a timeline well in advance of the proposed 2025 opening of the Bécancour plant.

Unlike the Schwarzheide plant, this facility, to be situated in Battle Creek, Mich., does not depend on co-location with recycling. The off-spec recovered materials comes from Nanotech’s California operation, which will incorporate BASF’s CAM into its own battery production line. Nanotech, founded in 2014, is developing graphene-based energy-storage products.

“[W]e are establishing the first closed-loop system in North America,” Daniel Schönfelder, BASF’s senior vice-president battery base metals and recycling at BASF, said in a statement. “This enables BASF and Nanotech to produce lithium-ion batteries with locally recycled content.”

The company made no mention of its co-location strategy when it unveiled this deal — a signal that the circular economy premise underwriting the Quebec project can be achieved in other ways and in other locales.

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