Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) held a groundbreaking ceremony for its Lithium refinery in Texas yesterday.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the US Department of Energy Undersecretary Kathleen Hogan, and Nueces County Judge Connie Scott addressed the coveted event.
This new lithium factory by Tesla is located just outside Corpus Christi, Texas. It is around 217 miles away from the city of Austin, Texas which is home to Tesla’s International HQ and Gigafactory Texas.
Tesla live-streamed the groundbreaking ceremony on Twitter and YouTube simultaneously. The live stream started when Elon Musk drove the Cybertruck to the location of the event (watch the recording below).
The interesting part to look at in this video is the added accessories to the Cybertruck. A tool rack grille was added to both side rails of the electric pickup truck and a few shovels were tied to this metal grille. Surprisingly, these shovels also had a low-poly design like the Cybertruck.
In the past, Elon Musk promised that the Cybertruck will be a useful pickup truck for field workers. Tesla has shown a glimpse of how the automaker envisions the future with the Cybertruck in this scenario.
Tesla community is referring to these custom-designed shovels as Cybershovels. These shovels were used by the guests to participate in the groundbreaking of Tesla’s first lithium refinery.
All the guests appreciated Tesla’s efforts in creating employment in Texas and its cities across the state. Not only Tesla, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX also recently announced a new Starlink manufacturing facility in Bastrop, Texas.
Reddit user u/highguy604 shared a few closeup pictures of the Cybertruck tool rack grille seen at the Tesla lithium groundbreaking. The following picture shows it is designed to act as a roof rail as well. This Cybertruck rack might make it to production but will eventually be sold separately, of course.
Tesla Lithium Refinery in Texas
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the rest of the guests were happy and excited to have another investment made by Tesla in the Lone Star State. This will certainly bring more engineering and technical jobs to the state, the city of Corpus Christi, and Nueces County.
“This is a great day for Nueces County. You may remember I was here a month or two ago and I was talkin’ about the way that you’re gonna see a wave of jobs coming to Corpus Christi and Nueces County,” Governor Abbott said.
“This is just one of many projects that will be providing those jobs that will elevate Corpus Christi and Nueces Country, Robstown, the entire area far much more. Congratulations on this big success,” the Texas governor added.
According to Elon Musk, Tesla’s lithium refinery in Texas will be able to produce lithium for about a million vehicles. This factory alone will have the capacity to produce more battery-grade lithium than the production of the entire North American refineries combined.
“As you can see we’ve got the Earth-moving equipment already here, so we’re going to begin construction immediately. We’re aiming to finish construction next year and then reach hopefully full production a year later,” Elon Musk gave the Tesla Lithium refinery timelines.
Elon Musk clarified that Tesla intends to continue using its lithium suppliers and this lithium refinery is in preparation for meeting the company’s future demands. Since
Musk also said that lithium is a very common Earth ore but making it battery-grade is an industrially intensive task. Battery-grade lithium needs to be completely free of any impurities, otherwise, the battery degradation will be faster than expected.
“We’ve got a number of innovations we think will be quite effective in the refining of lithium that haven’t been done before,” Elon Musk said.
Turner Caldwell Sr Manager, Battery Minerals & Metals at Tesla explained how the process of producing lithium at this Tesla refinery will be different from the conventional methods.
According to Caldwell, lithium refining is a chemical process that requires heavy use of sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide. The conventional methods produce byproducts that are hardly of any use later such as sodium sulfate.
Keeping sustainability in mind, Tesla has invented their own methods of refining lithium. Turner Caldwell explained the process in a bit of detail as follows:
What we are going to be using are much more inert reagents, we’ll be consuming soda ash sodium carbonate very common industrial chemical.
We’ll be consuming lime, again a very common industrial chemical and it’s a much more direct route that consumes 20% less energy all in.
It consumes reagents that are 60% less costly and all in the production cost is 30% lower on a unit cost basis.
But the real key thing here is the byproduct that’s produced is much more inert. It’s basically a mix of sand and limestone.
And the team here has been working really hard on finding beneficial use opportunities for that sand and limestone to try to feed that into construction materials.
So that we end up with as a net environmentally very neutral site.
Tesla’s Senior VP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino further explained that Tesla is pursuing to eliminate inefficient processes to refine lithium here in Corpus Christi.
“In fact, we’re looking at 30% fewer process steps in this refinery than a typical refinery and still achieving what we need to, to hit our cathode quality and performance targets,” Drew Baglino said.
Tesla’s lithium refinery will bridge the supply and demand gap for the battery cathode needs at Giga Texas in the future. Tesla is already producing Model Y electric SUVs at the plant and with the Cybertruck production starting this year, the demand for batteries will grow exponentially.
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