The Battery Boom Has Created a New Lithium Superpower in China

With a ruined 13th Century castle, the Irish town of Carlow is an unlikely staging post in the super-charged rise of a key player in China’s push to dominate the global electric-vehicle revolution.

Ganfeng Lithium Co. sent a team to the town — a 90-minute drive southwest of Dublin — in 2013, shuttling between prospective lithium deposits dotted through the verdant countryside. It was part of their company’s first foray outside China amid a drive to boost production of key materials needed to make rechargeable batteries.

With projects and partnerships now spanning South America to Australia, Ganfeng is aiming to use proceeds from a share sale in Hong Kong this week to continue a growth spree that’s forecast to make it the industry’s second-largest producer from this year.

“They understood so many years back — in the early 2000s — that lithium would be driving all of the green energy revolution,” said Kirill Klip, a former executive with Ganfeng’s first overseas partner, International Lithium Corp., who joined the working party in Ireland. “It’s a very hands-on approach, literally — they were working with our geologists turning over rocks, studying all the lithium boulders,” said Klip, now executive chairman of TNR Gold Corp.

Since that Irish expedition, Ganfeng’s share of refined lithium output has jumped from about 6 percent in 2013 to an estimated 11 percent this year, according to Roskill Information Services Ltd. It accounts for about a quarter of battery-grade lithium hydroxide, the material that’s now most sought after by automakers, the researcher’s data shows.

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