Tesla may start mining lithium as Musk cites battery metal cost

Elon Musk. (Image by Steve Jurvetson, Flickr).

Nearly two years after Tesla Inc. outlined a plan to dig for lithium, its chief Elon Musk signaled that the electric car giant might start doing so, due to skyrocketing cost of the metal key to battery technology.

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.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 8, 2022

Lithium has joined the turmoil gripping commodities in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Even before the war, prices of raw materials rallied with demand surging and supplies choked up due to pandemic-triggered supply chain woes. An index of global lithium prices compiled by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence has surged almost 490% in the past year. China worries about prices of lithium so much that it hauled in a range of market players for two days of talks focused on halting a breakneck run-up in prices.

Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batteries and so automakers are racing to secure supplies, expecting surge in demand amid a global push for the electrification of transportation. Tesla has signed supply deals with producers of battery metals in the past couple of years, including a secret one with mining giant Vale SA.

In the wake of the price rally in lithium, China is already telling its EV battery supply chain that it wants lithium prices to return to sustainable levels as soaring prices have increased cost inflation for manufacturers and threatened to eventually hurt consumer demand.

(By Yvonne Yue Li)

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