Tesla looks to miners for more nickel

July 29, 2020

As the demand for electric vehicles continues to grow one of the sectors leading manufactures, Tesla, has called for more nickel to be mined to power the vehicles.

Tesla Inc. boss Elon Musk urged miners to produce more nickel and warned the current cost of batteries remained a big hurdle to the company’s growth.

“Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way,” Musk said on a post-earnings call.

Tesla needs the nickel for its vehicles batteries. Nickel makes batteries energy dense so cars can run further on a single charge. Telsa is looking to ramp up production of trucks and solar projects that use a lot of nickel.

Reuters reported that Musk’s call for greater nickel mining came even as prices for battery materials wallow around rock bottom. Nickel hit a 14-month low of $10,865/t in March but has since recovered to $13,180, still down by some 30% from five-year peaks seen in September.

However, traders and analysts say the kinds of volumes Tesla would need are unlikely to make a compelling business case for miners to invest in increased production, nor are they likely to boost prices in the medium term.

Tesla currently sources nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) batteries from South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. and nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) batteries from Japan’s Panasonic Corp.

These companies indirectly buy nickel from mining companies in a long auto supply chain. Tesla doesn’t disclose which nickel miners are in its supply chain.

Given Tesla’s focus on sustainability, the company is likely to prefer to buy from miners of higher-grade nickel sulphide, which requires less power to process than laterite ore, said Lachlan Shaw of National Australia Bank.

There are three key suppliers - Brazil’s Vale, which operates in Canada using some hydropower, Russia’s Norilsk Nickel and BHP Group’s operations in Western Australia. “Vale is in the box seat,” he said.

While electric vehicles consume a much smaller amount of nickel than traditional industries such as stainless steel makers, EVs are expected to be the quickest growth market for nickel miners.

Nickel consumption in EV battery materials is expected to soar 64 percent between 2019 and 2025, research firm Wood Mackensie said, although it added that satisfying this demand could be challenging for an industry that has been slow to add capacity in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Tesla is expected to reveal technological advances at its “Battery Day” event in September.

 

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