Asian lead market review
Asia’s importance to the global lead market is not only in terms of its overall volume of consumption (estimated to be 9.5Mt in 2022) but the fact that the region is still forecast to see growth in demand over the balance of this decade. This is in contrast to Europe, where consumption is likely to fall, and North America where, at best, there will be little change.
Over the years this conference has seen many presentations discussing the lead market in China. Although the issues are now well known, it is worth repeating that the overall pattern of lead consumption in China is somewhat different from elsewhere. In China, CHR Metals estimates that the manufacture of SLI batteries, including for use in the domestic market and exports, accounts for a little over a third of total lead consumption. In Europe the share is more than 50% and closer to 70% in North America. This difference, and the key reason for Chinese lead consumption growing so quickly over the past twenty years and now being so large, is the huge demand for lead batteries which power two and three-wheel e-bikes. This has provided both a huge opportunity for lead producers and battery manufacturers in China but also poses a potential risk to their business, and, by extension, the lead industry worldwide, if lithium (or sodium) batteries become the major power source of choice for e-bikes in the future. We will provide our assessment of the current state of this all-important end-use market as well as its potential evolution over the next few years. We will also assess the impact of the rapid growth in sales of battery electric passenger vehicles in China and how this will impact on demand for SLI lead batteries going forward.
Although significantly smaller overall compared with China, India is now the second largest market for lead in Asia having overtaken Japan and Korea in 2004 and 2005 respectively. India is also the second largest producer of refined lead in the region. Demand has grown rapidly, fuelled both by an expanding vehicle fleet as well as a significant market for standby power. In the most recent years growth in the market for batteries to power electric rickshaws is also emerging. India has policies in place to encourage the electrification of all forms of mobility but is only providing subsidies for “advanced battery chemistries” and specifically excludes lead batteries from its FAME II programme. This may well be counter-productive as it makes two and three-wheel electric vehicles before subsidy more expensive than they need to be and is likely to slow the transition to electric mobility. FAME II also requires significant local content in the overall value of electric vehicles sold in India. The aim is to fast track the development of a battery industry based on advanced chemistries, but this may again slow the replacement by electric models of the very large fleet of two and three-wheel motorcycles and motor rickshaws already on the roads. It goes without saying that India already has a large domestic capacity to manufacture and recycle lead batteries and this industry is also involved in developing advanced lead batteries for motive power and energy storage applications.
Korea is the third largest consumer of lead in Asia and second largest producer of primary lead in the region. However, after taking into account secondary lead production, Korean refined lead output falls to third place. Unlike China and India, growth in Korean lead demand has been very dependent on battery exports, especially SLI batteries. With China now being a very large exporter of SLI batteries and Vietnam also developing a lead battery export business, it is likely that growth in Korean lead demand will slow in the future. We note that Korean auto manufacturers are also scaling up their output of battery electric vehicles which will have a negative impact on the market for original equipment SLI batteries in Korea, whether or not vehicles are sold domestically or exported.
This presentation will review the current situation, prospects and risks for lead demand in other key countries in the region and identify possible end-uses where growth might be expected.
Huw Roberts is an economist and co-founder with Claire Hassall of CHR Metals Limited. The company has an international reputation for providing in-depth analysis of the global zinc and lead industries, offering particular insight into developments in China. Huw’s career in the metals industry includes working for an LME broker, a number of years with a mining company and senior positions in metals industry consultancy. CHR Metals was established in 2000 and has offices in the UK and China.