“Please mine more nickel,” were the exact words of Elon Musk in a Tesla conference call for their second quarter earnings. Musk called out to mining companies to produce large volumes of nickel and offered a long-term contract with Tesla.
With a large-scale vehicle like that, the battery pack needs to be a lot denser in energy capacity because of its already huge weight, plus the added delivery cargo that it will carry when it becomes operational. Nickel is an element that increases the energy density of a battery, something that Elon Musk requires huge amounts of.
For 1 unit of Tesla Semi, approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours of battery is needed. In proportion, that would equate to 15 or 16 units of Model 3, which consumes 55kg of nickel for its battery. Thus, 1 semi will require about 850kg of nickel.
Only 3-5% of the total nickel production is used in batteries. The 95% is typically incorporated in steel products and metal alloys.
There are two classes of nickel.
- Class 1 - more than 99.8% pure. Sulfide deposits are the prime example, costly to mine but cheap to process.
- Class 2 - less than 99.8% pure. Laterite deposits does not cost much to mine, but the expensive processing will hold it back, seeing as it will be derived from a low-grade deposit.
Lithium-ion batteries use Class 1 nickel that comes in the form of a nickel sulfate compound.
Nickel mining is a costly venture. The production process from mining to chemical processing takes years to complete. There is a lot of work to be done from technical, to permitting, to construction. The cost will also be a factor.
With these hurdles in the way, people have become doubtful about whether the Tesla Semi will really be made. 10,000 target production will require 10 gigawatt hours. But Tesla powers through, according to a leaked mass email sent by Elon Musk to his employees saying that volume production will commence, with new and improved design aspects that came up with during the limited production days.
“It doesn’t seem to be achievable with current known battery technology.”
A Canada-based mining company has responded to Tesla's search for economical and environmentally-friendly nickel miners, having hydroelectricity as an energy source in their mining equipment.
The Semi will be conceived primarily in the Nevada Gigafactory. No specific release date was mentioned. So far, Tesla is only going for third-party suppliers of nickel and isn’t planning to acquire an actual mine and processing plant just yet, unlike the circulating rumors of the Piedmont Lithium purchase.
The ambitious idea of the Tesla Semi seems far-fetched for a lot of people with regard to the physics of it all. But we all know Elon Musk never disappoints. The Tesla Semi class 8 truck is predicted to revolutionize the cost of business logistics while having zero carbon emission.