How China's e-vehicle demand boosts Philippines' nickel industry

MANILA, Philippines – As the movement to ditch fossil fuels and turn to renewable energy slowly gains traction in developed countries, the mining sector in the Philippines is benefiting from the increased demand for nickel and other minerals.

Electronic vehicles or e-vehicles powered by renewable energy sources, for instance, are being pushed as environment-friendly options.

China is considered the top producer of e-vehicles. According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, 2% of the 30 million vehicles produced by China in 2017 were electric cars. Analysts project that this proportion of e-vehicles may quintuple by 2025.

Falling costs of electric cars and renewable technology may also halt growth in oil demand as early as 2020, according to a 2017 report by think tank Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute.

Dante Bravo, president of the Philippine Nickel Industry Association of the Philippines, said China's growing appetite for e-vehicles is driving strong demand for nickel and other minerals that are used for its batteries.

"Ang production ngayon [ng e-vehicles] kakaunti pa lang, siguro mga 5 million units a year, pero mag-i-increase iyan," Bravo said in a media forum on Tuesday, July 10.

(The production of e-vehicles now is quite low, around 5 million units a year, but that will increase.)

The Philippines is currently the world's 2nd biggest exporter of nickel, next only to Indonesia.

Bravo said the Philippines will continue to provide nickel to China for e-vehicle batteries, while there is still no e-vehicle manufacturing in the country.

However, shipments of nickel ore could fall by as much as 17% this year or around 30 to 35 million tons from 36 million in 2017, as the price of low-grade nickel is now weak.

The price of nickel on the London Metal Exchange (LME) fell to an 8-week low of $13,830 a ton last Friday, July 6, amid trade tensions between China and the United States.

Another challenge for the nickel industry is President Rodrigo Duterte's tough talk against mining.

Bravo said miners will address this "communication gap." – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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