This July 8, 2018, file photo shows Tesla 2018 Model S sedans sitting on display outside a Tesla showroom in Littleton, Colo. InternationalIndiaAfricaJames TweedieThe US auto industry is rapidly transitioning to production electric vehicles, but most of the lithium needed for their batteries is produced and refined overseas, including in trade rival China.Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have launched the construction of a plant to process lithium for electric car batteries.The two symbolically broke ground at the site in Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.Tesla, which builds only fully electrically-powered cars, is investing $375 million in the plant which will produce “battery-grade” lithium hydroxide and other “facilities to support other types of battery materials processing, refining and manufacturing and ancillary manufacturing operations in support of Tesla’s sustainable product line.”The lithium compound is key to making rechargeable batteries used in its cars and electronic devices like cellphones. The company also claimed the plant would use an “innovative” process to minimize pollution.
"There's no toxic emissions or anything," Musk himself said on Monday. "You could live right in the middle of the refinery and not suffer any ill effects."
The conventional process for synthesizing lithium hydroxide involves heating crushed ore before mixing it with hydrochloric acid, classed as a hazardous air contaminant under US environmental regulations.Turner Caldwell, Tesla head battery raw materials and recycling, said the firm would seek “beneficial use opportunities” for the sand and limestone which it expected to be the main by-products of its process.WorldTesla to Build ‘Superfactory’ in Shanghai to Produce Megapack Batteries10 April, 06:47 GMT
As the US auto industry transitions to electric and hybrid-powered vehicles, most of the lithium reserves and processing plants it needs are are located overseas.Musk said last April that Tesla needed to branch out into refining lithium because prices of the mineral had “gone to insane levels.” And the Albemarle Corporation (the world’s largest refiner of lithium for electric vehicle batteries as of 2020), announced in March that it would build a new processing facility at its South Carolina base at a cost of $1.3 billion.Australia is the biggest lithium miner, producing 51,000 tonnes per year according to German car giant Volkswagen, which is expanding its line of electric models to include a 21st-century update of the classic minibus of the 1950s.Chile is the second-largest ore producer and has the largest reserves, followed by Argentina, China, Zimbabwe, Portugal and Brazil. The US mines a mere 500 tonnes of the mineral every year.But it is China, the third-largest ore producer, which dominates the refining business with half of all global capacity.
"Texas wants to be able to be self-reliant, not dependent upon any foreign hostile nation for what we need," said Abbott, whose Republican Party wants to shift foreign policy focus from its proxy conflict with Russia to confronting China.
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