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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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  • 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 critical raw material according to the British Geological Survey – is headed for the same fate.

    Natural flake graphite is used as a key component in all battery technologies, the batteries that will power a shift to electric vehicles and the batteries we all rely on for mobile technology today. China controls 70% of supply while the USA has no active production. In fact, the whole of North America only produces 3% of the world’s flake graphite from one mine in Quebec, Canada.

    Buyers of graphite – which are predominately steel refractory manufacturers – have become over-reliant on cheap product from China, but those days appear to be over as the country looks towards limiting low value exports in favour of high value domestic manufacturing.

    Common restrictions the Chinese government has imposed on its miners include:

      • Closure of smaller mining pits under 20,000 tonnes/year to encourage larger pits and economies of scale
      • Closure of older, inefficient processing plants
      • Installation of plants capable of producing value added products such as spherical graphite
      • Redirection of raw flake graphite material to these value-added plants and away from exports
      • Potential for an export quota system such as in the magnesia and fluorspar industries in the past
      • Heavier taxes for exports of raw flake graphite material

    If even some of these come to fruition in the future, the global graphite supply landscape could look very different.

    Download a presentation on the subject here.

    For companies and countries used to counting on China for a relatively cheap and reliable graphite supply, Moore’s assessment is a warning sign that future supply may be far less certain.

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  • Lithium Supply & Markets Conference held this week

    Industrial Minerals, the London-based intellectual home of one of our experts, Simon Moores, is hosting a conference on Lithium Supply & Markets in Las Vegas this week. Over the past few years, Lithium has seen increased attention due to its relevance in battery technology. Lithium Carbonate is a key component in the manufacture of Lithium-Ion [...]
  • 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 [...]
  • EV uncertainty dominates discussion at Graphite Conference – Part 1

    This is the first of a two-part post by American Resources Expert Simon Moores and his Industrial Minerals colleague, Andy Miller. Check back tomorrow for Part Two. The future for electric vehicle (EV) batteries dominated discussion at Industrial Minerals 2nd Graphite Conference in London last week, despite being only the fourth largest market for the [...]
  • 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,” [...]
  • “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 [...]
  • China Opens Rare Earth Trading Platform

    News of China opening its first rare earths spot trading platform has reached us via IndustrialMinerals (IndMin), the London-based publishing and research house focusing on non-metallic minerals pricing and business information, and intellectual home for Simon Moores, the latest addition to the American Resources expert panel. Here’s how IndMin’s Laura Syrett breaks down the news [...]
  • American Resources panel of experts continues to grow

    We’re excited to announce the latest addition to the American Resources panel of issue experts. Simon Moores is manager of the data department at London-based publishing and research house, Industrial Minerals (indmin.com), the world’s leading source for non-metallic minerals pricing and business information. His areas of expertise include global supply and demand issues for strategic [...]

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