Tesla CEO Elon Musk has recently responded to a tweet related to the quickly increasing lithium prices, a key element of lithium-ion batteries, which are of course crucial for electric cars.
According to the tweet, the prices skyrocketed this year, reaching over $78,000 per tonne, which is multiple times more than in the previous years. We will not focus on the numbers, as they might change, but the general trend is that the cost of lithium increases.
Elon Musk responded that the company might be interested of lithium mining and refining in its usual fashion - directly and at high scale.
"Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale, unless costs improve."
The problem with lithium is not its shortage - we know that it's an abundant element, which can be extracted/mined in a variety of ways, but the industry is lagging behind the demand. The supply issue is amplified by various global challenges, uncertainty and inflation pressure, which usually affect commodity market.
"There is no shortage of the element itself, as lithium is almost everywhere on Earth, but pace of extraction/refinement is slow."
Tesla, as the world's biggest electric vehicle manufacturer and most recently, also a battery manufacturer (4680-type batteries, aside from its partnership with Panasonic in Nevada), probably is also one of the largest direct/indirect consumers of lithium.
Potentially, it could be an outstanding move to jump into a new segment and dig deeper into vertical integration, basically from a particular element up to the final product.
Considering how successful the company is so far, it might also transform the entire mining industry.
Lithium is not the only element, which notes huge price increase. Another one is nickel, another key element for lithium-ion batteries.
Elon Musk has noted once that nickel might be considered as a new gold. Most recently, the surging prices of nickel are considered the main reason behind price increases of Tesla cars (versions powered by batteries with nickel-rich cathode chemistry).