Elon Musk has hinted that Tesla may enter the lithium mining business. As the price of metal continues to rise, the company may begin implementing the plan presented during Battery Day in 2020.
The cost of lithium, one of the key components of electric vehicle batteries, continues to rise. Over the past 10 years, the price has increased from $4,450 per ton in 2012 to $78,032 per ton in 2022. Naturally, such large growth forces the industry to change, and the first changes may occur within the world leader of EV production. Tesla has entered the battery production business and plans to increase production on an especially large scale in the coming years.
Reacting to reports of rising lithium prices, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company could mine and refine lithium directly at scale. He explained that in reality there is no shortage of this element, since it is present almost everywhere on Earth. However, its production/refinement rates remain low, which, combined with high demand, is driving up the price.
“Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale, unless costs improve.
There is no shortage of the element itself, as lithium is almost everywhere on Earth, but pace of extraction/refinement is slow.”
Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale, unless costs improve.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 8, 2022
There is no shortage of the element itself, as lithium is almost everywhere on Earth, but pace of extraction/refinement is slow.
Lithium is a key metal for the lithium-ion battery and electric vehicle industry. Therefore, means of economically extracting the metal from various lithium sources are important to reduce the cost of batteries and EVs. The dominant lithium sources commonly used for mining are lithium brines due to the low cost associated with lithium extraction from these sources.
During Battery Day in 2020, Musk announced that Tesla had acquired the rights to a 10,000-acre lithium clay deposit in Nevada. Musk said that the company was thinking about how to get lithium in the most environmentally friendly way and a solution was found. Tesla has developed its own lithium mining system using table salt sodium, which can reduce costs by 33%. “Nobody's done this before, to the best of my knowledge, nobody's done this,” Musk said.
In July 2021, it became known that Tesla filed a patent for “Selective extraction of lithium from clay minerals.” The patent states that extracting lithium from ore using sodium chloride is an environmentally friendlier way to obtain the metal, compared to currently used techniques such as acid leaching. It also allows for higher recoveries. In essence, this method allows extracting lithium from clay mineral and compositions by mixing a cation source with the clay mineral, performing a high-energy mill of the clay mineral, and performing a liquid leach to obtain a lithium-rich leach solution.
Continuing his message in response to the rise in the price of lithium, Musk also wrote that the company has some great ideas for sustainable lithium extraction and refinement. It is not known whether he referred to this patent, but with the state of affairs that is currently developing on the lithium market, we may know about it in detail soon.
We have some cool ideas for sustainable lithium extraction & refinement— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 8, 2022
© 2022, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
We appreciate your readership! Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
About the Author
Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.