Withdrawal Of $120 Million Grant Would Affect Investors’ Confidence Says Goldfields Battery Materials Hub Boss

Investors’ confidence in Australia would be affected if the Federal Government withdrew a previously announced $120 million grant to a proposed $460 million Goldfields battery materials refining plant, the boss of the company behind the project says.
Pure Battery Technologies managing director and chief executive Bjorn Zikarsky told the Kalgoorlie Miner while the proposed precursor cathode active material (pCam) hub “stands on its own two legs”, it also enabled several other projects to proceed.
“The risk that losing the grant would cause to our project, and to those others that will benefit from it, comes in a lack of confidence for international partners in investing in the Australian manufacturing and critical minerals industries,” he said.
“Having the Australian Government continue to provide financial backing is not only useful financially but provides a strong message to our international competitors that we are a cohesive and united front that is open for business.”
Then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the $119.6 million grant to the Pure Battery Technologies project on March 16 at a WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA breakfast in Perth.
The grant was one of 17 announced through the Modern Manufacturing Initiative collaboration stream between March 1 and Federal election day on May 21 by Mr Morrison that is now being reviewed by the new Albanese Labor Government.
The departmental review launched in June takes place as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese this week announced there would be an inquiry into Mr Morrison secretly appointing himself to five ministries, including the industry portfolio which oversees the Modern Manufacturing Initiative.
The initiative was established in October 2020 as a $1.3 billion fund with three streams — collaboration, translation and integration — with estimates of the 17 affected projects being $828 million.
Media reporting this week has suggested Mr Morrison was identified in the collaboration stream’s guidelines as the person who would make the final decisions — a structure no other Federal funding guidelines appear to have — but he made the decisions as Prime Minister, not through on of his secret portfolio authorisations, and did not alter the recommendations of then-Federal Industry Minister Angus Taylor.
The new government is also reportedly concerned about why the 17 announcements were made so close to election day, and why more than half were in Coalition-held seats.
The Goldfields pCam hub proposal is in the Division of O’Connor, and Liberal Rick Wilson, who has held the seat since 2013, was re-elected in May, albeit with a reduced majority.
The review is going through hundreds of funding decisions, and new industry minister Ed Husic told ABC Radio on Monday he had instigated the review soon after being appointed.
Mr Husic said he could not say if any of the 17 projects would have their funding withdrawn because he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the review.
The only other WA project among the 17 is Australian Vanadium’s $367 million proposal to process high-grade vanadium from its Meekatharra mine for the creation of energy-storing batteries — the company received $49 million from the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, with the announcement made by Mr Morrison on the same day as the Pure Battery Technologies grant.
Mr Zikarsky said Brisbane-based Pure Battery Technologies was committed to working with the government and believed it was necessary for new leadership to undertake review of projects and funding that aimed to deliver on national policy and deliver value for the country.
“We are confident that our Australian-developed industry leading technologies, critical minerals industry focus and local value-adding manufacturing places us well within the policies of the government and enable us to deliver value locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally for Australia,” he said.
“We are committed to delivering an Australian-based refinery and believe our project meets and exceeds all the criteria to build the critical minerals and technology sectors in Australia, while contributing significantly to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the global EV industry.
“We have reached out to government, but to date have not been engaged in the review process.
“We would welcome engagement necessary to highlight the national benefit of our project and help facilitate the much-delayed process to move forward.”
Pure Battery Technologies is delivering the pCam hub in partnership with Poseidon Nickel, and is likely to locate it at the Mungari strategic industrial area west of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in the Shire of Coolgardie.
The pCAM — a mix of nickel, manganese and cobalt — is a vital precursor product for electric vehicle batteries, and the hub would initially produce 50,000 tonnes per annum, enough to produce up to one million lithium-ion EV batteries
Mr Zikarsky has previously told the Kalgoorlie Miner that first production was being targeted for mid-2024.
In June, he said there would be 380 direct construction jobs created, with 180 people needed to operate the plant, while a study the company had commissioned suggested there would be 1200 indirect jobs created as a result of the project.
Production at the company’s first commercial refinery in Hagen, Germany is currently being ramped up following a seven-figure investment from EIT InnoEnergy, Europe’s biggest cleantech investor, with the aim of producing 10,000t of pCAM by the end of next year.
Mr Zikarsky in June said the Hagen plant’s unique technology for the production of EV battery cathode materials that reduced both emissions and costs would be used at the Goldfields plant.