The challenges of getting such an industry underway are daunting. China has an enormous head start, with years of experience and hundreds of lithium refining plants, and a steadily tightening grip on the world’s battery-making facilities. Australia’s more rigorous workplace standards will also make it harder to compete with China on price, analysts said, even as some in Australia have argued that they will result in a more trustworthy, premium product.
“Consumers will vote using their feet, and they will buy electric vehicles, or even solar panels at home, based on the costs,” said Marina Zhang, a researcher at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.
Pilbara Minerals is working with the Australian tech company Calix on a project to refine spodumene to a lithium phosphate salt — a key step in readying the material used in batteries. The companies are expected to make a final decision by the end of the year whether to invest up to 70 million Australian dollars, or around $47 million, to build a demonstration plant.