Tesla has locked in a long-term, low-carbon nickel supply deal with Brazilian mining company Vale South America, the latter company confirmed today. Rumors of a potential deal between Tesla and Vale circulated in March. Vale finally confirmed the deal this morning.
Tesla and Vale agreed to a “long-term” contract that will supply the electric automaker with Class 1 nickel in the United States from the mining company’s operations in Canada. The agreement will supply Tesla with nickel for its electric vehicle batteries and aligns with Vale’s strategy to increase exposure in the EV sector. Vale said the deal with Tesla solidifies its “market-leading position as North America’s largest producer of finished nickel.”
Electric car companies like Tesla have done business differently than other car companies have in the past. Tesla is much more vertically integrated, which allows it to control its supply of materials to its in-house battery manufacturing operations. Tesla has ventured into producing its own battery cells but still is fed by healthy partnerships with some of the largest battery manufacturers in the world, like CATL and Panasonic.
As EVs have become more mainstream, despite only holding a small percentage of the U.S. automotive market, battery cell materials are becoming more sparse, and automakers are using different strategies to avoid production stoppages. One of these strategies includes maneuvering to different battery cell chemistries that utilize different materials and can be used in vehicles with different range ratings. Nickel has been on Tesla’s list of high-need materials for several years after CEO Elon Musk called for more robust mining operations of the metal two years ago.
“Well, I’d just like to reemphasize, any mining companies out there, please mine more nickel, OK?” Musk asked in July 2020. “Wherever you are in the world, please mine more nickel, and don’t wait for nickel to go back to some long–some high point that you experienced some five years ago or whatever. Go for efficiency, as environmentally friendly, nickel mining at high volume. Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way. So hopefully, this message goes out to all mining companies.”
Tesla locked up a nickel supply deal with Talon Metals in January, which likely catalyzed a need for the mining company to expand operations at its Tamarack mine in Minnesota. One supplier would not be enough for Tesla, however, as Vale is now the second company the electric automaker secured a long-term contract with before the first half of 2022 comes to an end.
“We are pleased to have the leading electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla among our customers,” Deshnee Naidoo, Vale’s Executive Vice President of Base Metals, said. “This agreement reflects a shared commitment to sustainability and shows very clearly we are the supplier-of-choice for low-carbon and high purity nickel products essential for long-range batteries.”
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