Elon Musk’s call for miners to dig more nickel for Tesla’s batteries faces its biggest test in Indonesia, where companies in the world’s top producing nation are planning to dump millions of tonnes of waste into the sea.
Mr. Musk said on an earnings call last month that Tesla would give a “giant contract” to companies that could mine nickel “efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way,” in response to a question about the biggest constraint on the electric car maker he runs.
The chief executive’s remarks reflect growing anxiety in the electric car industry over supplies of the industrial metal, which is vital for boosting the range of electric car batteries. Demand for nickel, which is also used in stainless steel, is expected to increase six-fold by 2030.
Analysts predict that Indonesia will account for almost all of the growth in nickel supplies over the next decade, the overwhelming output from new mines in Canada and Australia. But a number of Chinese-backed projects in the country plan to dump mine waste containing metals such as iron into the sea, in an area renowned for its unique coral reefs and turtles.
That presents a problem for carmakers such as Tesla and Volkswagen, which have pledged to soften the environmental impact of their batteries. “At some point, it will happen where they can’t avoid Indonesian nickel,” said Mr. Brown.
Nickel is the most expensive metal in an electric car battery after cobalt, trading at $15,320 a tonne. Electric vehicle makers are increasingly moving to nickel-rich technologies because the metal improves the battery’s energy density, enabling vehicles to drive further on one charge.
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