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Why Elon Musk and Tesla Use Minnesota’s Nickel Mine

Many in the industry see nickel, an integral component of most lithium-ion batteries, as a major hurdle, as automakers around the world have set bold goals for electrification of vehicles.

There is enough nickel on the ground to support major EV lamp-ups, but there are not enough planned mining projects or processing facilities to produce the type of high quality nickel needed for EV batteries.

Meanwhile, according to Mark Beveridge of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, the nickel content of the battery cell is only increasing. This is because the more nickel there is, the higher the energy density.

“”For certain cell types, 90% of the cathode is towards nickel. “

Russia has a lot of high-grade nickel, and the invasion of Ukraine has caused prices to skyrocket due to fears of supply disruptions, and the London Metal Exchange has even suspended nickel trading for a week.

Meanwhile, the United States is short of domestic nickel resources, and the Eagle Mine in Michigan is the only major nickel mine in the country and is scheduled to close in 2025.

Enter the proposed Tamarack mine in Minnesota. It is being developed by Talon Metals and the mining giant Rio Tinto. Although the licensing process is not yet complete, Talon has already signed a supply agreement with Tesla to incorporate Tamarack Nickel into EV batteries.

Employees of Talon Metals will observe a core sample of the company’s proposed nickel mine in Tamarak, Minnesota on-site.

Talon Metals

But elsewhere, the project pipeline for new high-grade nickel mines has been significantly depleted, and communities often oppose proposals for new mining projects.

The Tamarack mine is no exception.

Paula Maccabee, a Minnesota lawyer, advocacy director and counsel for the non-profit Water Legacy, said: “How much nickel does drinking water get? Where do toxic nickel go if there are gaps or cracks in the underground mine? Do you ask? “

Various types of nickel deposits

Today, most of the world’s nickel is used in the stainless steel industry. Beveridge estimates that batteries account for just over 10% of total demand, but the balance is expected to change rapidly over the next few decades.

“”Going 10 to 15 years into the future, we really hope that the battery sector will be able to provide more than 50% of the demand for nickel units at that time. “

However, not all nickel is of high quality enough to be used in EV batteries. It should be so-called “class 1” nickel with a purity of at least 99.8%. No nickel is as pure as this. Everything needs to be refined. However, the higher the grade of the original nickel deposit, the easier and less energy is required to process it.

The proposed Tamarack mine site is a high-grade nickel sulfide deposit.

“As you know, some of the nickel grades we’ve seen are up to 12%, which is the highest in the world. This is the highest grade I’ve ever seen in my career. It ’s one, ”Talon said.

Nickel sulfide is usually found deep in the earth and is mined from underground mines. Currently, the United States sources most of its nickel sulphate from Canada, Norway, Australia and Finland, but few new sulphide mines.

Additional nickel can be obtained from laterite, a low-quality yet popular type of nickel ore found near the surface and mined in open pit mines. Indonesia and the Philippines mine the most laterites, and Australia and Brazil also have large reserves.

Nickel Laterite Mine in New Caledonia.

Getty Images

The problem is that upgrading low-grade nickel laterite for use in EV batteries involves highly energy-intensive processes such as high-pressure acid leaching, which heats the laterite ore to a very high temperature, mixes it with sulfuric acid and pressurizes it. Is to be.

Henrivan Rooyen, CEO of Talon Metals, said:

This is one of the reasons why much of the EV industry considers it important to develop new nickel sulphide mines, especially in allies such as the United States and Canada, Beveridge said.

“”In the future, not only will the supply be closer to the North American end-user, the end-user, but it will also be possible to say that the end-user is using a cleaner nickel source. It’s their product. ”

But if all domestic automakers want to procure nickel from these less carbon-intensive mines, Mr. Beverridge said that there is currently not enough supply and the government will tell automakers nickel from sulfide mines rather than laterite mines. I think we need to encourage you to procure. Thereby he encourages more exploration and mine development.

Overall, mining is just one step in a complex nickel supply chain. After the nickel is mined, it is sent to another country for purification or conversion to nickel sulphate, and then sent abroad again for battery assembly. For carbon strength throughout the process.

While there Is a domestic refinery development plan and is not currently available in the United States. Therefore, even if Tamarack is up and running by the target date of 2026, its nickel may be shipped worldwide before it reaches the US EV.

Environmental problems and alternatives

First and foremost, the Tamarack mine must go through an environmental review and permit process. And there is no guarantee that this will be as fast and easy as Talon wants.

A major concern in sulfide mining is the potential for contamination of surrounding groundwater and surface water. In Minnesota, another proposed copper sulphide mine has remained in the environmental review and permit process for 17 years in the proceedings. Many of these proceedings say the Tamarack project raises familiar concerns.

“There are many community meetings and many public relations activities. But when the community asks, what is the evidence? Where is your hydrological evidence of where the pollution goes ….? They Has not received any information. “”

Talon hopes to begin the environmental review process by early next year, at which point the public will have access to the information McCabbie wants, but unless all data is publicly available in advance, it will be regulated. We are concerned that authorities and the general public will support the project prematurely.

If Talon faces a community backlash and delay, the deal with Tesla could be invalidated. If the mine isn’t up and running by 2026, automakers can leave the deal.

Adrian Gardner, Wood Mackenzie’s chief nickel analyst, sees this as a very ambitious goal.

However, Gardner believes that, in contrast to the mining industry, recycling lithium-ion batteries can provide a more fruitful and sustainable supply of nickel anyway. This technology is still very new, but battery recycling companies such as Li-Cycle and Redwood Materials have already partnered. With major car makers.

The exhausted lithium-ion battery pallet of JB Straubel’s Redwood Material is ready for recycling.

“”Gardner said there are at least five or six companies in the United States alone, each with its own technology, “but he doesn’t believe that recycling alone will provide all the nickel needed. It’s suspicious, but it works with the traditional technology available and used today. “

Nickel mining is still part of the equation, even though battery recycling has skyrocketed and become cheaper. Even if the Tamarack project is approved, it will only do a small blow to the world’s nickel deficiency. However, the Talon team hopes that this project will help prove that mining can be done in an environmentally friendly way.

“”I want to be able to say that our team has found it. We have developed it … an environmentally friendly and socially responsible metal, “said Van Ruen. Recycled to the next battery and the next battery, I’ve been gone all the time and these metals are still alive.

Watch the video to learn more about nickel mining and see what’s happening at Talon Metal’s proposed mine in Tamarak, Minnesota.

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