Buenos Aires — Last week, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández visited the first Argentine lithium cells and batteries manufacturing plant belonging to Y-TEC, a company that is part of state-owned energy giant YPF, and which will produce its first pilot models of lithium batteries in December, after taking delivery of components in October.
The plant’s annual manufacturing capacity will be 13 MWh, equivalent to 1,000 batteries for stationary energy storage of renewable energy, or around 50 batteries for electric buses.
The plant will create 50 direct jobs and required $770 million in investment, with $210 million coming from the Science and Technology Ministry, nd $280 million each from the University of La Plata and Y-TEC.
Y-TEC’s president Roberto Salvarezza told Bloomberg Línea that the plant will be ready to produce the first battery cells in December, and once they are produced, the final production of the batteries will be carried out by small and medium-sized companies that have already been identified by Y-TEC, which will receive the final product for its sale.
In a first stage there will be pilot projects to test the batteries, for stationary use and energy storage in small solar parks, one of which is Isla Paulino, in the town of Berisso, where the electricity will be generated by a solar park together and stored in lithium batteries, which will then be tested in mobility applications, and will also be supplied to the army for mobile radars, replacing the traditional lead-acid batteries.
One of the observations, or criticisms, the project has provoked is is whether the battery production will imply high costs due to the need to import components, since lithium is only one of the components of the batteries’ cells.
Salvarezza explained that “we have chosen a technology that was developed a year ago, which is lithium iron phosphate, integrated by non-polluting elements and with accessible components in the country”.
“The iron is available in the country, the phosphate can be imported without difficulties from neighboring countries such as Brazil, the electrolyte will also have to be imported because it is difficult to produce in Argentina and the graphite is very accessible, as it comes from the coke in YPF coking plants,” Salvarezza said.
And where will the lithium come from?
Argentina has the second largest lithium reserves in the world, and is the world’s fourth-largest producer. However, although there are numerous projects under development, there are currently only two projects with lithium production: Livent (in Catamarca province), and Sales de Jujuy (in Jujuy province).
“For this first stage, we are making arrangements so that some of the companies that produce can provide us with the tons we need,” Salvarezza said.
The battery project is linked to another, more ambitious one, that of YPF Lithium, YPF’s business unit that intends to compete in the exploration and production of lithium carbonate in northern Argentina.
“YPF Lithium is in advanced negotiations with the country’s provinces to award concessions in the salt flats,” Salvarezza said, explaining that YPF Lithium will be responsible for the metal’s extraction and refining, whole the subsequent stage of industrialization will be carried out by Y-TEC.
But will the lithium battery production project be profitable? “It could be a profitable resource in some niches, Salvarezza says. “Electric mobility is the future that is coming,” he said, but added that Y-TEC is a company of “pure risk”.
“We hve to enter and position ourselves in this niche,” he added, expressing his hope that Y-TEC will stimulate other companies to begin manufacturing lithium batteries.