Elon Musk's advice for entrepreneurs: "Get into the lithium business"

The Tesla CEO said more people need to get into the lithium mining business as demand grows with the EV market.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had a word of advice this week for would-be business titans looking for a hot market: lithium. 

"I encourage entrepreneurs out there who are looking for opportunities to get into the lithium business," Musk said Wednesday during Tesla's Q1 earnings conference call. "Lithium margins right now are practically software margins." 

The raw material cost for lithium-ion batteries is already soaring, and demand is sure to grow along with the electric vehicle market. 

"Can more people please get into the lithium business?" Musk pleaded. "Do you like minting money? The lithium business is for you."

Musk called lithium refinement the "slowest element of the whole supply chain" for electric vehicles. 

"It's not that there's a shortage of lithium ore in the world," he said. "Lithium is almost everywhere; it's a very common element. You still need to dig up the ore, then you need to go through a whole series of refinement steps, and that's a lot of industrial equipment that's needed." 

Currently, most lithium is mined in Chile and Australia, and almost all of it is processed in China. However, there are major efforts underway to kickstart lithium production in the US. Lithium Americas -- a mining company that owns the rights to the largest known lithium deposit in the United States -- has plans to extract potentially 80,000 tons of lithium a year.

Last month, the White House said President Biden would use his authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to support the production and processing of materials used for large capacity batteries, including lithium. The justification for using the DPA, the White House said, is "reducing our reliance on China and other countries for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future."

Drew Baglino, Tesla's SVP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering, noted on the call that Tesla has been engaging with lithium suppliers for many years. 

"They have a lot of projects already in the pipeline to come online this year and next," he said. "If we look past this year or next year into 2030 when we need 15 to 20 terawatt-hours of this stuff to stay on the growth trajectory we're on, we need everybody to do more in the lithium space than they currently are." 

Musk said, "We think we're going to need to help the industry on this front."

The CEO's remarks echo comments he recently made on Twitter when he said the price of lithium has hit "insane levels." He added, "Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale unless costs improve." 

Back in 2020, Tesla secured the rights to a lithium deposit in Nevada. Then last year, the company applied for a patent for its lithium extraction technology.

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