At a Battery Day event held on 22 September, Tesla founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, and manufacturing industry executive, Drew Baglino, revealed some exciting plans for the future of the company, including Tesla sourcing its own raw battery metals, and embarking on processing and production of batteries.
At the event, Musk and Baglino revealed several new initiatives that would bring battery chemicals production closer to home.
The first was plans to start building their own cathode facility in North America which would leverage North American resources that exist for nickel and lithium.
“And just doing that, just localising our cathode supply chain and production, we can reduce miles travelled by all the materials that end up in the cathode by 80 per cent,” Baglino said.
Musk also suggested the removal of the Class 1 nickel dissolution process in sulphuric acid, which is how nickel sulphate is currently manufactured to create the final battery cathode product. This creates a large amount of wastewater and waste by-products, which Tesla aims to eliminate with its lithium cathode plant and facility.
“We found that we can actually use table salt, sodium chloride, to basically extract the lithium from the ores.”
“All the elements are reusable, it’s a very sustainable way of obtaining lithium,” Baglino said.
Musk and Baglino also announced that the company aims to move upstream into mine production.
“We actually got rights to a lithium clay deposit in Nevada.” “Over 10,000 acres.”
According to Tesla’s estimates, using its new extraction and processing technology, lithium in Nevada would be enough to support the electrification of the entire US vehicle fleet.
They detailed that the new method will be cheaper, faster and environmentally sensitive.
However, Wood Mac analysts state that the method needs to be proven at a commercial scale before the lithium industry will take it seriously and move away from the conventional processing routes.
“It is very difficult to believe that all the world’s mineralogy and processing experts would not have realised it was so simple to extract lithium in this way,” they said.
“Many new methods of extracting lithium have been discussed in recent years as the needs of electrification have been realised. Most have numerous challenges. It would be surprising, although of course not impossible, for Tesla to discover the ‘Holy Grail’ of extraction so soon.”
During the presentation, Mr Musk disclosed several technological advances it proposes to implement to lower the cost of producing lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles, including an innovative type of lithium-ion battery.
Tesla’s new battery cell design can achieve five times the energy with six times the power, and enable a 16 per cent range increase.
According to Wood Mac, no commercialised electric vehicle (EV) cell has materialised as of yet; however, production has already commenced, with 10 GWh of annual capacity expected before the end of 2021.