Tesla in Talks with Chile's Top Lithium Producer On a Plant to Supply Raw Materials for its Batteries

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【Summary】Tesla is hedging its bets on lithium production in Chile. The Financial Times reports that Tesla is in talks with Chile’s largest lithium producer Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) to invest in a lithium processing plant.

  Eric Walz  ·  Jan 29, 2018 4:37 PM PT
author: Eric Walz   

Tesla is hedging its bets on lithium production in Chile. The Financial Times reports that Tesla is in talks with Chile's largest lithium producer Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) to invest in a processing plant. If successful, the deal would mark Tesla's first attempt at securing battery raw materials, which have soared in price due to the growing popularity of electric cars.

As part of the deal, Tesla might agree to build a processing plant in Chile to produce the high-quality lithium it needs for its batteries, Eduardo Bitran, the executive vice-president of Chilean development agency Corfo said.

"With an increasing supply of lithium, Chile is key for any company that wants to become global in electro-mobility," Bitman told Financial Times. "Being close to Chile or having a strategic alliance in Chile becomes a strategic factor for a company like Tesla." he added.

Reuters quoted Chilean officials saying that the two companies are "exploring" agreements for "important volumes" of lithium hydroxide, a key raw material for lithium-ion batteries, like those used in Tesla's electric vehicles. Chile, Australia, and China are the world's largest producers of lithium, although Chile is the least expensive source. SQM said it would up its quotas to meet Tesla's demand.

Often referred to as "white gold", lithium is used as an electrolyte material and is considered key to any automotive company's ambitions for supplying electric power for transportation. Lithium prices have increased 200% over the last five years as demand increases. As the race for electric vehicles heats up, automakers are scrambling to secure their own steady supplies. Earlier this year, Toyota said it had secured a 15% stake in an Argentinian lithium producer.

Tesla must satisfy massive demand for lithium in its vehicles batteries, and also those in the Tesla Powerwall, as it struggles to ramp up production of its Model 3, its first mass-market electric vehicle. Despite delays, the company wants to produce at least 500,000 vehicles annually by the end of 2018. To accomplish this, Tesla will need an abundant supply of cheap lithium, something that SQM is able to supply.


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