Tesla’s lithium refinery, once called a “money printing machine” by CEO Elon Musk, is now expected to be put into operation earlier than originally planned.
In September 2022, Tesla announced plans to build a lithium refining plant on the Gulf Coast of Texas, USA. The goal of this new factory is to produce lithium hydroxide to support battery cell production at Tesla’s Texas Gigafactory in Austin.
Tesla has previously confirmed that it plans to invest US$365 million in the lithium plant. The plant will employ about 165 full-time employees, plus about 250 construction workers for about two years.
At a groundbreaking ceremony in May, CEO Elon Musk said the plant would produce enough battery-grade lithium, more than the rest of the current North American refineries combined, to be used to build about 1 million electric vehicles a year.
Tesla previously said it planned to complete construction of the lithium refinery next year and start production in 2025.
However, Tesla’s lithium refinery now plans to be operational in the first half of 2024 and gradually increase production in the second half, according to Jason Bevin, Tesla’s senior manager of operations, at a job fair in local media in Texas. He said: “We will start debugging the equipment at the beginning of next year, which will continue in the first half of next year, and will gradually increase production starting in the second half of next year.”
Bevan hinted that Tesla is already considering the future of the lithium refinery and its economic impact on employees and local communities. “Beyond those two production lines, we have land that is very suitable for future expansion, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to further improve the economics beyond just the people we employ directly,” he said.
Lithium is an important raw material for lithium batteries. Lithium concentrate is refined and processed into lithium salts. At present, lithium salt products mainly include lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. The former is mainly used in lithium iron phosphate, lithium cobalt oxide and some ternary lithium cathode materials. Lithium hydroxide is mainly used in high-nickel ternary cathode materials. After Tesla’s lithium refinery is completed, it will reduce its external purchases of lithium hydroxide.