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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Tesla Motors’ Gigafactory to Drive Critical Mineral Demand

    The graphite, lithium and cobalt industries are set for major demand surges as Tesla Motors prepares to break ground on its super-battery plant, the Gigafactory, next month.

    The high-end EV manufacturer is looking to double the world’s battery output as it seeks to bring the production cost of battery packs down in a bid to spark mass EV uptake.

    The company is aiming to begin construction on the Gigafactory in June 2014 with an old airfield in Reno, Nevada rumoured to be the favoured site.

    One of the biggest impacts of the Gigafactory will be demand for the critical minerals that will fuel it. Lithium, graphite and cobalt are all set to be key raw materials to make Tesla’s lithium-ion batteries, but the question remains whether the company can get the volumes and consistent quality it needs in time.

    What follows is an analysis on the potential volumes of critical minerals Tesla would need for a Gigafactory operating at capacity, which is expected in 2020.

    Graphite demand up 152%

    Graphite will be the largest input raw material for Tesla. Should the company choose natural graphite, it would require as much as 126,000 tonnes of flake graphite each year in the form of 50,000 tonnes of the battery-grade material, spherical graphite.

    This is an increase of 152% on today’s battery demand for the mineral. It equates to 6 new graphite mines on the basis of today’s 30,000 tpa mine size average and the yield of suitable material gained from the mine.

    Graphite — both natural and synthetic — is used as the anode in a battery.

    China is the leading producer of flake graphite and the leading processor of battery grade spherical graphite today. But the country is aiming to consolidate operations which could see it withdraw somewhat from the international market place.

    Lithium demand up 50%

    Lithium, the second largest input mineral by volume, will see demand increase by 25,000 tonnes a year from a Gigafactory at capacity. This is an increase in demand from the battery sector of 50% on 2013 levels.

    Mined as a mineral and processed into a chemical, lithium is used as the cathode material in both hydroxide and carbonate form.

    Chile is the leading producer of battery grade lithium today.

    Cobalt demand up 17%

    Cobalt demand from the battery sector could rise as much as 17% on 2013 levels thanks to Tesla’s plans. This is the equivalent of 7,000 tonnes a year.

    The metal is also used as a cathode material in lithium-ion batteries.

    The leading supplier of cobalt is the war-torn country, DRC Congo, which supplies 55% of the world’s total. Tesla has stated it does not get its cobalt from the Congo; that highlights the lack of dedicated cobalt mines around the world, with most supply coming as a by-product such as is the case of copper mining in Africa.

    It is also important to note besides the Congo, there is no large producer of cobalt, but rather many countries producing very small amounts, varying from 3-7,000 tpa. Taken together, they collectively equate to the remaining 45% of global supply.

    Other less critical raw materials Tesla will need include nickel, bauxite(aluminium), and copper. The company will not be using rare earths, as its cars do not use a permanent magnet.

    A free special report, “Tesla’s $5bn question: What will Tesla Motors’ battery super-plant mean for critical mineral demand,” will be published next week via Twitter, Linkedin, and through ARPN and Industrial Minerals.

    Simon Moores is an American Resources Policy Network Expert. Learn more here.

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  • Graphite to play major role in coming materials revolution

    We have had a fair amount of graphite- and graphene-related coverage on our blog in recent months – but for good reason. As analyst Byron King argues, graphite, as one of the primary carbon raw materials in a naturally occurring form, and allotropes of carbon, such as graphite nanotubes and graphene, will play a major role in the coming materials revolution.

    In an interview with The Metals Report, he explains his reasoning. Here are his key points:

    • The next big leap for fundamental material science will be in the field of carbon. Graphite is already widely used – from amorphous carbon in brake pads and pencils to flake graphite, both small and large (used for example in advanced storage batteries) – but “we’re barely into the early innings of the materials revolution using advanced forms of graphite.”
    • As is the case with REEs, China is a key global supplier of graphite. What is different from the REE story, is that mining and processing graphite “isn’t super technically advanced.”
    • As downstream users have their own “secret chemistry for putting the graphite and other additives together into a component,” there has to be a tightly-knit supply chain with miners working with downstream users early on.
    • Large-flake graphite will likely see rapid demand growth, primarily for use in batteries and foils, as well as fire insulation and heat resistance.
    • Of note, there hasn’t been a new mine going online outside of China in the last 25 years, and many of the working mines are getting “long in the tooth.”
    • Synthetic graphene and nanotubes are already finding their way into high-tech applications, and that trend will only continue with aggressive research and development projects underway.

    To read the full interview, in which King also provides some insights into the state of play for the platinum group metals and outlines his “happy version of the future” twenty to thirty years from now, click here.

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  • What are China’s intentions for its graphite production?

    The following is a guest post by American Resources expert Simon Moores. Wide-reaching controls on China’s natural resources continue to be at the forefront of its shift to a high value economy. Already industries like rare earths and phosphate fertilizer are tightly controlled by government-forced regulation. The question remains whether graphite – the 9th most [...]
  • Graphene’s pioneers battle global hype

    There has been much hype surrounding what has been described as the world’s wonder material – graphene. It is (theoretically) stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and incredibly flexible. Graphene is a one atom layer of carbon, a truly two-dimensional material. One mining company described it as “graphite, unfolded”. On the face of it [...]
  • As graphite demand increases, geopolitical dimension becomes more apparent

    ProEdgeWire’s Graphite and Graphene Weekly Review sees surging demand for graphite and its derivative graphene, not least because of their important role in battery technology, where graphite continues to be a traditional component, while graphene is considered a major factor in future generation batteries. Recent reports of aircraft batteries catching fire won’t change that – [...]
  • EV uncertainty dominates discussion at Graphite Conference – Part 2

    This is the second of a two-part post by American Resources Expert Simon Moores and his Industrial Minerals colleague, Andy Miller. Read Part One here.   2013 rebound after poor year 2012 has been a poor year for graphite demand. Trading activity has been sapped out of the industry since September with little sign of [...]
  • American Resources experts to speak at international graphite conference

    American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty will speak alongside fellow American Resources expert and Manager for Industrial Minerals Data, Simon Moores, at Industrial Minerals’ 2nd Graphite Conference 2012 in early December. In light of its traditional uses, its importance for the new Li-ion technology, and the ostensibly endless potential applications for the “new super material graphene,” [...]
  • Tungsten and Fluorspar – strategic implications of mineral resource supply issues stretch beyond REEs

    You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find Tungsten and Fluorspar mentioned in the same sentence as “Rare Earth Metals.” With its traditional applications in ballistics, the former is historically known as a “war metal,” while the latter has been an important component for chemical applications. And in spite of the fact that Tungsten makes the top [...]
  • “The New Black”? New study examines graphite’s potential

    Graphite’s uses have long been diverse, but, according to the experts at Industrial Minerals Data, the “emergence of the Li-ion battery era” – with Li-ion technology being key to our everyday portable electronic gadgets – has the “potential to turn the industry on its head.” Coupled with the ostensibly endless potential applications for the “new [...]
  • Supply crunch may loom for Graphite

    In an article this week, Resource Investing News is asking: “Will the U.S. Produce Graphite?” As the piece points out, with China producing roughly 80 percent of global graphite output, and the U.S. not producing the metal in spite of the fact it is considered a critical mineral, “it is imperative that the US find [...]

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