Tesla breaks ground on lithium refinery in Texas
In another move to secure supply to lithium needed for the batteries in its electric vehicles (EV), Tesla Inc. broke ground on a lithium refinery in Texas.
Reuters reported that Telsa CEO Elon Musk said the facility should be able to produce enough lithium to supply about 1 million EVs by 2025, making it the largest North American processor of the material.
“As we look ahead a few years, a fundamental choke point in the advancement of electric vehicles is the availability of battery grade lithium,” Musk said at the ground-breaking ceremony.
Construction of the facility is planned for next year with a goal of full production a year later. It will make Tesla the only major automaker in North America that will refine its own lithium. Currently, China dominates the processing of many critical minerals, including lithium.
“Texas wants to be able to be self-reliant, not dependent upon any foreign hostile nation for what we need. We need lithium,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at the ceremony.
Musk did not specify the volume of lithium the facility would process each year, although he said the automaker would continue to buy the metal from its vendors, which include Albemarle Corp and Livent Corp.
“We intend to continue to use suppliers of lithium, so it’s not that Tesla will do all of it,” Musk said.
Albemarle plans to build a lithium processing facility in South Carolina that will refine 100 kt/a (110,000 stpy) of the metal each year, with construction slated to begin next year and the facility coming online sometime later this decade.
Musk did not say where Tesla will source the rough form of lithium known as spodumene concentrate that will be processed at the facility, although Tesla has supply deals with Piedmont Lithium Inc and others.
Reuters reported that Tesla said it would eschew the lithium industry’s conventional refining process, which relies on sulfuric acid and other strong chemicals, in favor of materials that were less harsh on the environment, such as soda ash.
“You could live right in the middle of the refinery and not suffer any ill effect. So they’re very clean operations,” Musk said, although local media reports said some environmental advocates had raised concerns over the facility.
Itt was not the first time that Tesla has attempted to venture into lithium production. Musk in 2020 told shareholders that Tesla had secured rights to 10,000 acres in Nevada where it aimed to produce lithium from clay deposits, which had never been done before at commercial scale.
While Musk boasted that the company had developed a proprietary process to sustainably produce lithium from those Nevada clay deposits, Tesla has not yet deployed the process.