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Core and Tesla scrub lithium deal as spodumene ore prices soar

Core Lithium’s Finniss project in northern Australia won’t be delivering to Tesla for now after negotiations failed. Credit: Core Lithium

Core Lithium (ASX: CXO) shares fell on Thursday after the miner and Tesla couldn’t secure a supply deal for battery-metal ore, but the power may reside with the producer over the automaker.

The companies were trying to hammer out a four-year contract for Core to deliver about 100,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate from its Finniss mine near Darwin on Australia’s north coast. The negotiation deadline passed on Wednesday.

Core’s share price shed 5.15% to A$1.38, valuing the company at A$2.53 billion. They’ve traded in the range of A47¢ to A$1.69 over the past year.

The Adelaide-based miner didn’t explain in its Thursday news release why the talks failed. But prices for the ore which is processed into lithium have more than doubled since March.

Spodumene concentrate was trading at $7,181 per tonne on Thursday, according to the Shanghai Metals Market.

Core’s chief executive officer Gareth Manderson said the company would benefit from higher prices and strong interest in its product.

“Core Lithium is well-positioned to capitalize on the high demand and current shortage of available battery-grade lithium spodumene concentrate,” Manderson said in the release.

Tesla is facing increasing competition for raw materials as traditional automakers enter electric vehicle manufacturing, draining supply while empowering producers of battery metals. Tesla says it is building a refinery in Texas that has secured supplies from Albemarle‘s (NYSE: ALB) Silver Peak mine, Livent (NYSE: LTHM) and Ganfeng Lithium. It had even considered buying lithium clay deposits in Nevada at one point.

Core says 80% of the Finniss mine’s output for its first four years is already allotted to China’s Ganfeng and Yahua spodumene processors. Production is to start in the first half of next year at the 500 sqkm site.

Finniss has proven and probable mineral reserves of 7.4 million tonnes at 1.3% lithium oxide for 97,900 tonnes of lithium oxide. The project, which has an A$89 million capital cost, is expected to mine 173,000 tonnes per year of lithium concentrate at an operating cost of $364 per tonne, according to a 2021 feasibility study.