BEIJING — The Chinese government is putting a huge amount of support behind the development of the lithium battery industry, and film manufacturers are optimistic about prospects for the sector.
More than 200 industry representatives gathered to discuss the development of the lithium-ion battery market in China and abroad at the 2015 Market and Technical Development Conference of Lithium-ion Battery & Separator Film and LIB Key Materials Industry Chain Development Forum 2015, held in Beijing in early April.
Speakers noted that lithium ion batteries are becoming popular around the world, including Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe. Following this global trend, China's demand for lithium batteries is also growing, especially since 2011, according to speaker Wu Yao Gen chief engineer at FSPG Hi-Tech Co. Ltd., one of the top three producers of lithium-ion battery separator film in China.
The biggest increase in demand has remained in the consumer electronic goods category (for example smart phones and portable chargers), he said, although the demand for electric transportation tools such as electric bikes is growing at a markedly increased rate as well.
Following the increased demand, there also has been an increase in production. According to data he provided from AskCIData, the production of lithium batteries in China was more than 5.28 million units in 2014, an increase of 10.9 percent from 2013. According to CCM, the industry will have expanded 400 percent by 2017.
Chinese government subsidies for new energy vehicles remain a large part of the government support, although earlier this year the amount of subsidies decreased by 10 percent in order to extend the program.
Wu Yao Gen said that from 2009 to 2015, as production of lithium battery separator film steadily increased in China, the price of separator films steadily dropped. But he said there is a heavy dependence on imported films, with Japanese, South Korean and American manufacturers making up an overwhelming majority of the global separator film market.
Wu highlighted some of the reasons for the dependence on imported separator films. Many employees at foreign separator film companies have prior experience working in the battery industry and understand battery companies' needs. He added that domestic companies also invest less in equipment and have lower processing capacity, resulting in a production process that is hard to control.
Raw materials also make a difference. Domestic Chinese companies do not have a stable source of resin, he said, whereas some foreign companies like Celgard LLC have their own independent testing labs and so can produce their own resin. Celgard, a leading manufacturer of polyethylene and polypropylene separator films, is a unit of Charlotte, N.C.-based Polypore International Inc. — but Japan's Asahi Kasei Corp. recently signed an agreement to buy Polypore's Celgard unit for $3.2 billion. See story here.
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