Tesla’s Warning on Battery Mineral Shortage Addressed in New Mining-Reform Legislation

Tesla is concerned about a global shortage of minerals required for production of electric vehicle batteries, with the electric car maker recently warning major industry players and US government representatives of an upcoming mineral supply challenge due to underinvestment in mining sources, according to a report published by Reuters. Representatives in the US government who are both aware and focused on the shortage issue have introduced legislation in the Senate to address delays rooted in the federal approval process. The bill, titled the “American Mineral Security Act”, was presented at the same closed-door conference where Tesla expressed its concerns last week.

“Our bill takes steps that are long overdue to reverse our damaging foreign dependence and position ourselves to compete in growth industries like electric vehicles and energy storage,” Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the main sponsor of the bill, said in a statement about the legislation. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Virginia), Martha McSally (R-Arizona), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) are co-sponsors.

The bill specifically requires that a list of critical minerals be compiled at least every three years along with a resource assessment of those minerals nationwide. This data is then used to target and implement reforms in the federal regulatory process aimed at reducing government-driven delays in the mining approval process.

As a major consumer of minerals required for the production of electric vehicle (EV) batteries and other vehicle parts, Tesla will need stable access to mined resources like copper, nickel, and lithium in the long term. The expansion of the EV market will continue to increase demand for these resources. Other tech players such as Amazon and Alphabet also need the same resources for the production of their digital assistants and home connectivity devices.

Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, Sarah Maryssael, spoke with representatives present at the industry conference about Tesla’s concerns regarding the company’s mineral needs. Maryssael noted that a “huge potential” existed for mining partnerships in Australia and the US to help with the supply issue, possibly citing a preliminary deal between the two countries for a joint effort towards research and development in the area.

The global demand for copper, in particular, is expected to increase from the current 38,000 tons per day to 1.5 million tons by 2030, and this estimate has driven major copper production companies to expand its mining activities in the US and Indonesia. Electric cars use twice as much copper as gas-powered cars, making the EV industry particularly sensitive to its market availability.

Tesla’s needs from the mineral industry go well beyond copper. The company’s Nevada-based Gigafactory 1 facility is expected to hit 255 GWh annual production of batteries once complete. At that rate, the current global supply of lithium will need to increase nearly three times over to meet the demand. Unlike copper, though, investments in lithium production are ongoing, and Tesla’s ramping need for the mineral is driving significant expansion in part of the mineral market.

To say that the buildout of Tesla’s Gigafactory 3 in China is fast is a gross understatement. Within a few months, Tesla’s 864,885-square meter lot in Shanghai’s Lingang Industrial Area has been transformed from a large, muddy field into a site where a massive electric car factory is taking shape. Every update of Gigafactory 3 shows the facility making visible progress. This week alone, footage from the site revealed that workers have practically completed the roof of Tesla’s general assembly building, and walls are already being set built.

Back in March, Shanghai official Chen Mingbo stated that the initial buildout of the factory should be completed by May. Considering the speed of the facility’s construction, this insane timeframe seems to be on track. If this target is accomplished, Tesla could start Model 3 trial production as early as September. That’s significantly ahead of Elon Musk’s own estimates, which pointed to initial production starting near the end of 2019. Reports from China also indicate that Gigafactory 3 could set a record for fastest factory buildout in the country.

The original timeline for Gigafactory 3 was actually far more conservative, with Tesla noting that it expected vehicle manufacturing to start roughly two years after construction begins. The timeframe, which was classic Elon Musk in the way that it is optimistic and ambitious, faced relentless skepticism in the United States. Consumer Edge Research senior auto analyst James Albertine, in a segment of Bloomberg Markets, flat-out stated that Tesla’s targets for Gigafactory 3’s construction were simply “not feasible.”