New Tesla low-voltage system a ‘big deal’ for copper, says Musk

Elon Musk at 2023 Tesla Shareholder Meeting. Image from Tesla.

In front of an audience of investors, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s presentation was full of optimism during the 2023 Tesla Shareholder Meeting.

Musk said the company is progressing to achieve 20 million cars produced per year (In 2022, Tesla built 1.37 million), promised camera monitoring to ensure that children do not work in cobalt mines in Africa, and demanded more investment in lithium refineries.

In a moment that went almost unnoticed by the audience, however, Musk mentioned a change that could impact Tesla’s demand for copper.

He confirmed the automaker is switching its models’ low-voltage system from 12 volts to 48 volts.

Tesla says that starting with the Cybertruck (slated to be released this year), the Optimus robot, and all future electric vehicles, the 48V low-voltage system will be used.

Source: Tesla

“Cars have been operating with 12V batteries for basically about a century, so for the first time in I think over a hundred years we’re actually going to change from 12V outside of the drivetrain to a 48V architecture,” said Musk.

The automotive industry moved from 6V to 12V in the 1960s. Some smaller vehicles still use 6V, while larger vehicles use 24V.

In traditional 12V systems, wiring and components must be larger and heavier to handle high electrical loads. With a 48V system, Tesla expects a reduction in battery weight and cost savings. As a result, it could also result in less copper used in manufacturing.

“First approximation, that means we need only about a quarter as much copper in the car as would be needed for a 12V battery, so that’s a big deal because people often worry about whether there is enough copper,” Musk said. “Yes, there is.”

Some Tesla cars use up to 82kg of copper. For example, Tesla’s Model S uses a mile of copper just in connecting the battery packs to all electronics.

As reported by MINING.COM, to achieve Tesla’s goal of building 20 million cars per year, the company would need 1,820,000 tonnes of copper, roughly 9% of global production in 2022 or almost two years of production at Escondida in Chile, the world’s largest copper mine.

Based on Musk’s prediction of a reduction to a quarter of today’s copper usage, at annual production of 20 million electric vehicles, the company could save more than 1.3 million tonnes, which equals over $10 billion at today’s prices.

Musk is known for making some predictions that did not come true, such as saying Tesla cars would achieve full self-driving by 2015.

If his calculations are correct this time, the 48V system could be a big step for the company.