As the age of the electric vehicle draws nearer, the reasons behind the changeover have never been more clear. As governments across the globe try and curb the effects of climate change, fossil fuel usage has become an easy target for regulations. That said, society has decided to turn a bit of a blind eye to the environmental implications involved with transiting to a global fleet of electric vehicles. In order to highlight just how much raw material mining will be involved as EVs grow in popularity, Mining.com has just published a study researching the ore needs of Tesla Motors should they hit their 20 million vehicle a year production goal. In short, the details might make environmentalists turn green.
The batteries that power our electric vehicles of today are constructed using a variety of different metals. The majority of automakers use a mixture of lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt to supply the juice for their cars, while Tesla Motors has previously favored a lithium, nickel, cobalt and aluminum mixture. At Tesla’s Battery Day in September of last year, the automaker announced their plans to move away from cobalt due to the human rights implications that go along with the mining process. Instead, the California automaker plans to release a new battery that utilizes a high-nickel cathode design, which should eliminate the need for cobalt as a stabilizing chemical. Even without mining for cobalt however, Tesla is going to need an insane amount of raw materials to produce 20 million cars annually.
The EV Material Index presented by Mining.com used data from Adamas Intelligence, who track the demand for EV batteries by chemistry, cell supplier and capacity in over 90 countries. By extrapolating Tesla’s current figures out to 20 million annual sales, the index allows us to get an idea of the sheer volume of material we are dealing with. According to the index, Tesla will need more than 30 percent of the mined nickel produced globally in 2019 in order to build 20 million vehicles. That is equal to the total output of the top six nickel producers in the world. Furthermore, global nickel production actually dropped by 20 percent in 2020, which means Elon and company will require an even larger chunk of the total.
While nickel may be their most important metal moving forwards, Tesla is also going to need a lot of graphite. In fact, the automaker will need the equivalent of 94 percent of the world’s natural graphite production to meet their production goal. Furthermore, miners produced some 77,000 metric tonnes of lithium in 2019. That may seem like a lot, but Tesla will need 127,000 tonnes annually to build 20 million vehicles. Perhaps the picture is starting to come into focus.
Mining.com notes that in order to keep up with their nickel demands, Tesla Motors will theoretically need to open some 23 new mines, at around $8.5 billion a pop. Even if these mines become as clean and environmentally conscious as possible, there are real repercussions involved here. All of this need is also only focused on a single automaker, who is far from the largest in the world.
Imagine the amount of these metals companies like Volkswagen and General Motors are going to need to electrify their offerings. For reference, the Volkswagen group sold 9,305,400 vehicles in 2020, down 15 percent from 2019.
At this point we all know that Tesla is a hot brand right now, building curious products that fit well with today’s internet meme culture. We also know that the company has a tendency to over promise and under deliver. While we can’t say that Tesla won’t build 20 million vehicles a year in the future, there are real challenges ahead. This is true of the entire automotive industry, which perhaps has made grandiose visions of an all electric future without taking into account the supply challenges of necessary metals.
There is no denying that there’s a finite supply of oil, but compared to mining, there seems to minimal concern about running out any time soon.