Tesla starts construction of US lithium hydroxide refinery

Tesla’s $1 billion project aims at increasing the carmaker efforts of producing battery-grade lithium hydroxide domestically in the United States to serve the growing North American e-mobility market, the company said

Tesla’s $1 billion project aims at increasing the carmaker efforts of producing battery-grade lithium hydroxide domestically in the United States to serve the growing North American e-mobility market, the company said.

The refinery, which was announced earlier this week, will be built in the greater Corpus Christi area of Texas.

Although the facility nameplate processing capacity has yet to be announced, the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer said that in the future the refinery will be able to process a mixture of intermediary lithium feedstocks, including recycled batteries and manufacturing scrap.

Full production at the site is expected to be achieved by 2025, Tesla said.

The site will deploy for the first time ever at scale an acid-free lithium refining process which “eliminates the use of hazardous reagents and byproducts in favor of more inert options,” the company added.

“Although actual capacity hasn’t been announced yet, a million EVs would need roughly 50,000 tonnes lithium carbonate equivalent. This is half the capacity of Albemarle’s proposed US ‘mega-flex’ facility in South Carolina. A target of full production by 2025 is ambitious even by Tesla standards, considering the current parts shortages and long lead times for key components,” Jordan Roberts, Fastmarkets’ battery raw materials research analyst, said.

Tesla moves to accept recycled lithium

Roberts also pointed to Tesla’s move to also accept recycled lithium and freshly mined spodumene as feedstock.

Once collected, the lithium-ion battery waste can be turned into black mass — made of lithium, nickel and cobalt — and re-enter the battery raw material supply chain.

US-headquartered miner Piedmont Lithium has in place an agreement to supply Tesla with 125,000 tonnes of SC6, a high-purity spodumene concentrate suitable for lithium-ion batteries, from the second half of this year until the end of 2025.

The spodumene will be sourced from Piedmont’s jointly owned North American Lithium (NAL).

NAL is located in Quebec, in eastern Canada, and is a joint venture between Piedmont and Sayona Mining. Under the joint venture arrangement, Piedmont is entitled to purchase 113,000 tonnes per year, or 50% of the venture’s spodumene SC6 production, whichever is the greater volume.

Commercial production at NAL is scheduled to start in the first half of 2023.

Erin Sanders, senior vice-president of corporate communications at Piedmont Lithium, said during a recent industry event that demand for lithium hydroxide in the US is expected to soar to 715,000 tonnes per year by 2030.

With current capacity at 17,000 tonnes per year, plus planned capacity of only 180,000 tonnes per year, that will lead to a shortfall of 518,000 tonnes, according to the executive’s data.

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