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Elon Musk Wants Lithium For Electric Vehicles, But It’s Hard to Get

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Elon Musk wants more lithium, but only a handful of countries can supply the material key to the electrification of transportation, at least for now.

The Tesla Inc. chief made a public appeal for more investment in lithium mining to close what he sees as a yawning gap between supply and demand, fueled by the adoption of electric vehicles. Musk signaled the electric car giant might finally start mining lithium due to skyrocketing prices. He first mentioned that plan almost two years ago.

Lithium mined production concentrates in a few major producing countries.Bloomberg

The urgency to have a lineup of supply of the silvery white commodity comes as demand growth is set to surge in the coming years. While major producers such as Albemarle Corp. are expanding capacity and new projects are being built, supply growth is not fast enough due to a lack of investment following the boom-bust cycle in lithium from 2017 to 2019.

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For now, lithium production concentrates in a few countries, with Chile and Australia accounting for 81% of global output. Few suppliers mean higher risk of supply disruptions.

Investors shied away from lithium producers, developers and explorers in the wake of the two-year price slump. At the time, a lot of lithium capacity was being brought online, triggered by the electrification hype when Tesla and non-hybrid vehicles came on the scene five years ago.

While junior miners and startups are developing newer and greener technology to mine lithium, none of them have achieved commercial scale, rendering auto companies such as Tesla to rely solely on traditional mining countries such as Chile and Australia.

With assistance from Joe Deaux.

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