Tesla plans a ‘license to print money’ aka lithium refining factory in Texas

Tesla is planning to build a lithium refining factory in Texas – something CEO Elon Musk has previously referred to as a “license to print money.”

In an application filed with the Texas Comptroller’s Office and obtained by Reuters where Tesla is seeking to obtain relief on local property taxes, the automaker describes a battery-grade lithium hydroxide refining facility to be built on the Gulf Coast of Texas:

“The potential battery-grade lithium hydroxide refining facility, which Tesla touted as the first of its kind in North America, will process “raw ore material into a usable state for battery production”, the company said in an application filed with the Texas Comptroller’s Office.”

If the project is approved, Tesla says that it could start construction as soon as in the fourth quarter of 2022, which would enable it to reach commercial production by the end of 2024.

Tesla’s lithium refining effort

Tesla has been looking into entering the lithium mining and refining industry for a long time now.

All the way back in 2014, Tesla tried and failed to buy a lithium startup for $325 million.

At Tesla’s Battery Day event in 2020, the automaker announced that it is getting into the mining business – starting with buying lithium claims on 10,000 acres in Nevada.

The automaker planned to implement a new process to mine and refine the lithium into a battery-grade material.

However, two years later, Tesla has yet to do anything with this claim or a new lithium mining technology announced at the same event.

In the meantime, the price of lithium has gone up by more than 400% during that time.

More recently, CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla might actually get into the lithium business as a reaction to the price increase.

During Tesla’s last earning call, the CEO encouraged entrepreneurs to get into the lithium processing business – referring to it as “a license to print money”:

So it is basically like minting money right now. There’s like software margins in lithium processing right now. So I would really like to encourage, once again, entrepreneurs to enter the lithium refining business. You can’t lose. It’s a license to print money.

There are many companies getting into this space or expanding it, including Lithium Americas, Standard Lithium, Livent, and more. But as Musk pointed out, there’s plenty of space for more.

Tesla has recently issued a lot of contracts to secure a supply of lithium, but processing itself would be a big step for the company in furthering vertical integration.

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