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Move Over, Lithium – Manganese Emerges as a Key Player in the EV Revolution

When it comes to the metals and minerals underpinning the green energy transition, Lithium, not surprisingly has become the obvious poster child. After all, one of the key technologies in the context of the EV revolution is lithium-ion battery technology.

However, as followers of ARPN well know, there is more to the story, and more than one battery technology, and, as Jessica Cummins outlines in a recent piece for Stockhead, demand for one of the lesser-known raw materials and one of the five minerals ARPN has designated as “battery criticals” – manganese – is on the rise.  Writes Cummins:

“An afterthought in global commodity markets for the last few decades, almost half of today’s lithium-ion batteries include manganese, and CPM’s projections have that figure jumping above 60% by 2030.

With its ability to increase energy density, equating to longer driving range in the case of electric vehicles, and the added benefit of combustibility reduction, manganese is fast emerging as a vital material to the future of the EV industry and automakers are cashing in.” 

In recent years, automakers increasingly expanded their battery material focus to include manganese, and while Volkswagen’s 2021 announcement of the company’s intention to incorporate high-manganese cathodes into its EV batteries was considered surprising, other automakers have since followed suit.

Cummins believes, however, that the ‘third wave’ of battery technology development, called lithium-manganese-iron-phosphate (LMFP) battery technology, might have the biggest impact going forward.

She points to recent research which has found that the incorporation of manganese into an upgraded version of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries (LFP), which represent the dominant battery chemistry in China, can double the range for a single charge from roughly 500km to up to 1,000km.  A Chinese supplier for Volkswagen says its LMFP technology has a life cycle of 4,000 charge-discharge cycles and over a lifetime can reach a range of up to 4 million km.

Element 25, owner and operator of Australia’s biggest onshore manganese resource, is building a battery plant in Louisiana and will be supplying Stellantis and General Motors. Cummins cites the company’s managing director Justin Brown, who says:

“What we’re seeing is the shift away from cobalt, which has meant that the proportion of nickel has been increasing, however nickel has become problematic because all significant nickel supply comes from laterite processing in Indonesia, which is energy intensive and an environmentally destructive process.”

Brown adds:

“Manganese is now the go-to metal and while the transition isn’t going to happen overnight, I’m told by the OEMs that the factories they are building now will be able to switch across to high manganese cathode materials without any significant re-tooling. It has become a really important part of their planning and over the next two years, when we get into production, I think you’re going to see a completely new landscape.”

With the importance of manganese growing – industry insiders already see LFMP batteries overtaking LFP in China – there is a looming supply shortage in the high-purity manganese market which is set to “really heat up” in 2028.

BloombergNEF expects demand from manganese from the battery segment to surge ninefold by 2030.  These developments have prompted a series of U.S. domestic efforts to secure manganese supply chains.

As ARPN outlined earlier this year, Nevada Silver Corporation, a U.S.-based mineral development company announced that its Minnesota-based subsidiary North Star Manganese received the required permits to commence drilling at its Emily Manganese Project.   Located in the Cayuga Iron Range of Central Minnesota, the Emily District “may contain the largest and highest-grade manganese deposits in the Northern Hemisphere” according to USGS. Drilling has begun and the company has already constructed a processing plant on site.

Further down the development path is the Arizona-based Hermosa Project, owned by major global manganese miner South32’s U.S. subsidiary, which the company calls its first “next generation mine” based on a design that uses automation and targets carbon-neutral mining operations in support of South32’s goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  Hermosa is “multi-Critical,” hosting not only manganese, but what may be the world’s largest zinc deposit, which is a key material in solar and wind power systems.

With demand for EV technology surging, and developments as the ones outlined by Cummins underway, the days when manganese flew under the radar are a thing of the past.

Expect to see and hear more about the material going forward, because, as Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s Simon Moores phrased it last year, manganese represents an “EV supply chain bottleneck that can no longer be pushed into tomorrow by battery and automakers.”