Hey Brother, Can You Spare a Couple Hundred Thousand Tons of Local Cobalt and Graphite?

There are many reasons for Tesla to pursue a radical supply chain strategy in developing new, localized sources of supply for the giant battery facility that it is planning on building. I covered some of the basics on the strategy and its implications in a previous post, based almost entirely on an excellent synopsis and analysis by Supply Chain Digest. One of the major benefits is shortening the processing supply chain – which has different segments and is not as simple as “mine to factory.”

As SCD notes, “currently, graphite, cobalt and other commodities often travel thousands of miles from mines to processors and then on to manufacturers and consumers, miles that will be significantly reduced if Tesla can source what it requires from North America.” One benefit derived from shortening this supply chain will be reducing the “logistics waste” inherent in such an extended supply chain.

The benefits of local raw material supply are no doubt significant. But Tesla may directly face a “not in my backyard” challenge from environmental opponents as well as an indirect economic hurdle in identifying new local sources of supply given the business considerations involved. As SCD writes, “the US hasn't had an active cobalt mine since 1971. But a company called Formation Metals is developing a new one currently in Idaho. However, the Vancouver-based company needs to raise $120 million to complete the project, and new mine start-ups are historically risky endeavors.”

Recent and current administrations in Washington – not to mention the EPA – have not been friendly to mining interests. No doubt, the debate for zero-emission vehicles as well as energy and mineral self-sufficiency against the environmental protection lobby is one that will need to happen for Tesla to meet its ambitious supply chain localization goals.

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