Saudi Arabia is set to have its first battery chemicals complex – a large-scale, world-class project to process cathode active materials for the booming electric vehicle battery market.

Australia-based battery chemicals and technology company EV Metals Group (EVM) plans to build a processing complex to produce high purity chemicals and metals required in lithium-ion batteries for EVs and stationary storage facilities.

The multi-stage project includes a plant to produce lithium hydroxide; a nickel chemicals plant to produce nickel, cobalt and manganese sulphate; and a pre-cathode active materials plant. Preliminary plans estimate a two-train lithium hydroxide plant with capacity of 25,000 tonnes/year coming online around late 2024/early 2025. The second plant could be operational in 2026 and the third plant would follow after.

Initially, the complex will acquire spodumene concentrate from “established producers” in Western Australia to process in Saudi Arabia, and eventually mine its own resources, EVM managing director Michael Naylor tells Kallanish in an interview.

The company owns mining licenses in Australia and is also applying for exploration permits in Saudi Arabia. Chairman Abdullah Busfar tells Kallanish the company has recently acquired “huge nickel deposits” and will be ready to take advantage of the expected shortage in nickel supply around 2035.

At an estimated $2 billion investment tag, the project has the backing of the Saudi government and is in line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 diversification strategy. Late last year, EVM signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Industrial Development Centre (NIDC) for the development of the project, as well as the Saudi supply chain in the kingdom.

“A battery chemicals complex provides the impetus for the development of the Saudi supply chain for critical raw materials for high purity battery chemicals in the kingdom,” comments NIDC chief executive officer Nizar Al-Hariri. “We look forward to collaborating with EVM to formulate and implement proposals to fast track those strategic developments within the framework of Vision 2030.”

Busfar says the complex will be a “global first for Saudi Arabia” and that fast-tracking is key for EVM’s first mover advantage.

“We will bring world class technical capabilities, know-how and technology in exploration, mining and processing from our operating subsidiary in Western Australia to fast track the development of the battery chemicals complex and the Saudi supply chain to attract foreign direct investment in the minerals and metals sector,” he adds.

Further details such as capacity and site location are expected later this month, when EVM is due to publish its pre-feasibility study. So far, the executives say the complex would be located in a potentially tax-free zone near battery manufacturers. There are three sites under consideration, but the company seems to prefer a location on the west coast, as the Red Sea provides easier access to its key markets of Europe and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is the major shareholder in electric vehicle manufacturer Lucid Motors and is reportedly seeking to build a factory near Jeddah.