In the final episode recorded from Santiago, Chile, at the Fastmarkets Lithium Conference, Joe and Emily sit down with Alison Dai, director of Chengdu Chemphys. While Chemphys may be unknown to many who follow the lithium industry due to it’s deep specialization in high purity products, Joe introduces the company as a strong Chinese competitor to FMC.
Alison shares her multicultural heritage, and tells the podcast’s hosts about her life growing up in Australia, beginning her career in investment banking, and then taking the decision to return to China and join the family business in 2015, including getting her Mandarin Chinese up to scratch. She and Joe illuminate Emily as to the meaning of “high purity” lithium, and who needs to buy it. Spoiler alert: It’s electrolyte makers! High purity lithium is called four 9’s or five 9’s, referring to the 99.99% or 99.999% purity that some applications require.
Alison the explains why in the mid 90s’ Chemphys decided rather than to enter the crowded technical grade industrial lithium market in China, that their niche would be high purity products. In today’s battery-driven world, Joe identifies the growing need for higher purity materials and the increasing applications for Chemphys processes allowing new ways to leverage processing expertise especially in the brine space.
Following on from E44 with Chloe Holzinger from Lux Research about innovation in the lithium space and the role of China, the three discuss the heterogeneity of China and how the Chinese culture of innovation favors the commercial scale of new technology applications by allowing companies to come online more quickly and adjust during commission vs. the more western “plan and pilot” model. On the China theme, Alison explains how access to financing from banks and government funds in China differs for state companies, big companies, and the smaller players.
The episode is rounded out with the usual rapid fire section, in which Alison teaches Joe and Emily to say prang in the Sichuan dialect and Mandarin, Joe and Alison bond over a shared love of athleisure wear, and Emily uses China as an excuse for being bad at Twitter.