Electric Avenue: Tesla’s table salt patent

July 21, 2021

As always, the dreamer in Elon Musk comes through with an idea that could well change the way automotive brand’s approach to electric mobility.

Musk first mentioned using table salt to mine lithium for use at last year’s Battery Day, when he had said ‘“We found that we can actually use table salt, sodium chloride, to basically extract the lithium from the ore. Nobody has done this before to the best of my knowledge.” Now Tesla has filed a patent detailing a new way to mine for the lithium necessary for batteries.

Electrek got hold of Tesla’s new patent, and have summed up the most important parts. Here’s an excerpt from the patent:

Lithium is a strategic metal for the lithium ion battery (LIB) and electric vehicle (EV) industry. Therefore, a means for economically extracting lithium from various lithium sources is important in order to reduce the cost of batteries and electric cars. The dominant lithium sources commonly used for mining are lithium brines due to the low cost associated with Li extraction from these brine sources. However, the ever-increasing demand for LIBs makes it necessary to explore other lithium sources.

Another method for Li extraction is to extract the Li from clay minerals. In this process, the lithium is obtained by acid leaching, where clay minerals are mixed with an aqueous solution of common mineral acids, such as H2SO4 or HCl, and then heated under atmospheric pressure to leach out the lithium contained in the clay minerals. This acid leach method not only leaches out lithium, but it also leaches out high concentrations of impurities including Na, K, Fe, Al, Ca, and Mg. High lithium loss from the subsequent removal of the impurity elements, especially Al removal, may significantly lower the overall lithium extraction efficiency. Furthermore, high acid consumption and complicated leach solution purification methods also make the overall extraction process less cost-effective and not environmentally friendly.

The Senior Vice President of engineering at Tesla claims that this new mining process would save Tesla 33%. Hopefully this cost savings would be passed on to customers. Increasing access to electric cars is only good for the environment.

Tesla has already purchased 10,000 acres of land in Nevada where it plans to mine lithium.

If Tesla has found a way to improve lithium extraction while cutting costs, that could be huge for electric vehicles. Obviously, it will initially benefit Tesla, but it will likely expand to improve battery production for other car manufacturers as well.

 

by Anil George
Avid follower of all things tech. In between his quest for the ultimate gizmo, Anil fiddles with light meters, collects rare books and feeds his fetish for Jap horror movies. As Managing Editor of T3 Middle East for the GCC, Anil oversees content direction across print and digital. He was a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Judge, reprising his role as an Innovation Awards Judge at CES 2018, CES 2017, 2016 and 2015. Anil is also the Middle East's first Brand Ambassador for Ashdown Engineering. Reach him at: editor@t3me.com.