Tesla locks in world’s largest cobalt supplier Glencore for Gigafactory Shanghai, Berlin

The Tesla Gigafactory Shanghai complex as of April 2020. (Credit: Wuwa Vision/YouTube)

Tesla has secured a deal to purchase 12 million pounds of cobalt annually from Glencore, a Swiss-based company that is recognized as the world’s largest miner of the metal. The partnership will keep Tesla away from a possible supply squeeze of cobalt as more automakers aim to break into the EV sector in the future.

The deal will supply both Giga Shanghai and Giga Berlin with enough of the metal to avoid a shortage in the future. With the electric vehicle sector continuing to grow, and demand for Tesla vehicles expanding in both Europe and Asia, the company has struck a deal that will alleviate any supply shortage concerns in the coming years.

The terms of the deal are unknown, and neither company responded to inquiries from Bloomberg, which first reported the partnership between the electric car maker and the cobalt supplier.

In both China and Europe, popular automakers like Volkswagen, BMW, and BYD are preparing for a future with electric transportation. In 2017 and 2018, a shortage in cobalt caused prices to spike, which seems to have given Tesla CEO Elon Musk the indication that his company must begin developing a battery that was less reliant on the metal. While Tesla continues to work on battery cells that are free of cobalt, the deal with Glencore ensures that the electric car maker will not be in short supply in the foreseeable future.

Tesla had been discussing the terms of a deal with Glencore since mid-January. However, Glencore’s automotive supply chain goes past the Silicon Valley-based automaker. The company signed an agreement with BMW in April 2019, and also with Korean battery manufacturer SK Innovation in December 2019.

Tesla is looking to ramp up production outside of the United States as demand continues to increase across the globe. With the company planning to begin a steady push of the Model Y in Europe and Asia in 2021, Tesla’s battery supply chain must be efficient and dependable to ensure a steady flow of reliable electric vehicles.

Giga Shanghai is currently producing vehicles at a run-rate of 200,000 a year, with production expected to increase when Tesla completes phase 2A of the facility. The completion of the second phase in China will introduce the Model Y to the largest automotive market in the world.

Meanwhile, Giga Berlin is still roughly a year away from its initial production push, which will begin with the Model Y. However, Tesla anticipates an annual production rate of 500,000 electric cars per year.

Tesla recently expanded on its use of cobalt within its battery cells in the 2019 Impact Report. The company currently utilizes “nickel-rich cathode materials” in its cells, which contain less cobalt concentration than cathode chemistries that other companies use in their batteries.

The company also expanded on its practices of using cobalt, which is controversial on its own due to its mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Glencore owns a mine in the DRC, but it is currently closed for maintenance. Tesla’s suppliers are required to follow the company’s “Supplier Code of Conduct” and its “Human Rights and Conflict Minerals Policy.” Each of Tesla’s suppliers is subjected to an annual third-party to ensure safe and humane mining practices.

Tesla’s deal with Glencore will ensure safe and humane cobalt mining, but it will also ensure the company’s long-term success as production and demand for continue to rise. The electric automaker will undoubtedly let go of any concern that may have to do with supply shortages while the industry continues to grow amid more competition entering the sector.

Tesla locks in world’s largest cobalt supplier Glencore for Gigafactory Shanghai, Berlin
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