Tesla, which makes electric vehicles, has been rolling out new products at a fast pace and founder Elon Musk is known for being involved in even its smallest details.
That was evident on April 7 when Musk debuted the company’s new Austin, Texas Gigafactory and rolled out its first Cybertruck models himself.
But the company has come in for substantial criticism in how it treats its workers, with lawsuits filed over conditions at its factories, and long-time devotion to aiming for no unions within its workforce.
It also has been targeted for how expensive its luxury vehicles are and how long the waitlist can be for consumers who want to buy them, as interest in the EV market shoots up 70% from January.
While the anti-union stance appears to have softened lately, with Musk now working amiably with officials from President Joe Biden’s administration, it appears there are still a few new types of controversy to court.
The latest one has now arrived, as Musk wraps up a dizzying week of headlines, new product announcement, stock market moves and diplomacy.
Tesla May Segue Into the Mining Business
Musk said on April 8 that Tesla has been closely watching how expensive the element lithium is — and could start a mining and refining business to fill a market gap.
The price of lithium, which is used in a batteries of all types, has skyrocketed more than 480% in the last year, and market players have been rushing in to grab a piece of the action.
Tesla, which already owns a lithium mine in Nevada, is watching that process with interest, Musk tweeted.
Scroll to Continue
“Price of lithium has gone to insane levels,” Musk tweeted. “There is no shortage of the element itself, as lithium is almost everywhere on Earth, but pace of extraction/refinement is slow.”
Lithium is coveted for being extremely lightweight, a critical component to creating tech that isn’t weighed down and can be transported easily. It is also less toxic than other minerals and elements used to make batteries.
Is Lithium Mining Safe?
Still, there are some substantial barriers to entry of the lithium market.
The element itself is needs a resource-rich extraction process involving saline, and it has been blamed for a variety of environmental impacts.
Mining itself can cause contaminated soil, toxic waste, water loss, increased salinity of rivers, ground destabilization and biodiversity loss.
“After the brine is pumped out from underneath the salt flat, it is left to evaporate through a series of ponds for 12–18 months, forming a mixture of potassium, magnesium, borax and lithium salts,” according to researcher Laura Grace Simpkins.
Refining lithium is also complex and linked to adding toxic gases to the Earth’s atmosphere, an interesting hobby for a company that prides itself on its mission to get as many human beings in zero-emission vehicles as possible.
“The entire lithium extraction process contributes to an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Eco Jungle reports. “Lithium miners cut down trees and remove all other life forms from their targeted mining areas to eliminate obstructions.”
You can read a full report on the effects of lithium mining here.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.