Chengdu-based Tianqi is seeking to almost triple production capacity through 2020, part of an aggressive expansion by Chinese companies to tie up sources of the metals and chemicals that are key to meet rising demand for rechargeable batteries and electric vehicles.
Tianqi will buy all of Nutrien Ltd.’s voting shares in SQM, giving it a 24 percent stake in the Santiago-based company. Confirmation of the deal follows months of speculation that prompted Chilean government agency Corfo to request an antitrust review on the grounds it would give the two companies too much sway in the global lithium market. Corfo’s former head said the deal opens the door for Tianqi to take control of SQM.
The deal “makes the lithium oligopoly even stronger than it already is,” Chris Berry, a New York-based analyst on energy metals, and founder of House Mountain Partners LLC, said in an email. “This affords Tianqi a unique opportunity to shape the direction of the lithium industry.”
Competitor Ganfeng Lithium Co. is aiming to raise about $1bn from a planned Hong Kong listing to extend its own global acquisition spree, while southeast China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. is adding capacity under a plan to become the world’s top battery cell maker. In March, Glencore Plc, the world’s top cobalt producer, agreed to sell about a third of its output of the metal to GEM Co., a Chinese supplier of battery chemicals.
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