Mine workers

Stellantis, the car company owning RAM pickup trucks, Fiat, Chrysler, and other brands, has contracted with Finnish firm Terrafame for a steady supply of nickel sulfate it will make for its electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

The deal is one of several in development or recently announced between mineral companies and major vehicle makers.

The five-year Stellantis contract “will cover a significant portion of the needs for sustainable, regionally sourced nickel,” the company said in a statement announcing the arrangement.

Terrafame operates one of the world’s largest plants turning out chemicals for EV batteries from its own mine and ore-processing plant.

Stellantis has announced similar deals to source manganese sulfate from Australia and lithium from various locales.

Following that news, General Motors has unveiled a $650-million partnership with Lithium Americas to invest in Nevada’s Thacker Pass lithium mine, said to be the largest deposit in the U.S. and third largest in the world.

According to GM, this is “the largest-ever investment by an automaker to produce battery raw materials.” 

“The agreement with GM is a major milestone in moving Thacker Pass toward production,” Jonathan Evans, Lithium Americas CEO, said in a statement.

“This relationship underscores our commitment to develop a sustainable domestic lithium supply chain for electric vehicles,” he added. “We are pleased to have GM as our largest investor, and we look forward to working together to accelerate the energy transition.”

“GM has secured all the battery material we need to build more than one million EVs annually in North America in 2025 and our future production will increasingly draw from domestic resources like the site in Nevada,” GM CEO Mary Barra told a press briefing.

“Direct sourcing critical EV raw materials and components from suppliers in North America and free-trade-agreement countries helps make our supply chain more secure, helps us manage costs, and creates jobs,” she added.

The mine will begin to yield ore in 2026, the partners said.

GM will build its own batteries using its proprietary Ultium design and is creating “a robust North America-focused supply chain for EV raw materials, processed material and components, with major projects under way in California, Texas, Ohio, and Quebec,” according to Barra.

The GM and Stellantis projects are dwarfed by the scope of Li-Bridge (“Li” is the chemical symbol for lithium), a public-private partnership organized by the U.S. energy department to create a domestic supply chain and manufacturing infrastructure for lithium-based EV batteries.

The partnership includes a buying consortium for raw materials, shared research, worker training, resources to bring new battery technologies to market quickly, and streamlining permitting processes.

Li-Bridge involves three industry trade groups.

NAATBatt International promotes battery technology and manufacturing in North America. The New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium does the same for New York state.  New Energy Nexus describes itself as “an ecosystem of funds and accelerators supporting diverse clean energy” with projects worldwide.

The energy department’s Argonne National Laboratory is coordinating the program and the tech-oriented Boston Consulting Group also is involved.

In addition, more than 40 companies in the automotive, battery, chemical, electric utility, and mining industries are taking part. These businesses together employ more than 1.2 million people and generate about $900 billion in annual revenues, the program’s informational material says.

“The U.S. industry is still 10 to 20 years behind Asia, and about five years behind Europe, in commercializing manufacturing of this critical technology,” James Greenberger, executive director at NAATBatt International, said in a statement. 

​“The electrochemical storage of electricity will be as important a technology to the economy of the 21st century as the semiconductor chip has been,” he predicted.

Currently, China makes about three-quarters of the world’s lithium EV battery cells, according to Li-Bridge.

By 2030, Li-Bridge can help U.S. industry fulfill 60 percent of its lithium demand with domestic supplies, the program’s literature foresees, creating 100,000 jobs in a $33-billion industry.

“Reshoring supply chains reduces environmental footprints and builds social resilience during the energy shocks we’re facing this decade,” said Danny Kennedy, CEO at New Energy Nexus CEO, said in his statement. ​

“We have dozens of start-ups with American-made solutions ready to build an electric future here and abroad with better batteries,” he noted.

TREND FORECAST: Although arriving late, these partnerships will be crucial to the long-term financial health of Western auto companies as the world shifts to electric mobility.

Opening new mines will be the sticking point: environmental advocates and regulations will slow development, a problem not seen in centralized economies such as China’s and in many of the African and Latin American countries where China has established supply lines.

Therefore, for at least the next ten years, the West’s auto industry will remain dependent on China for a vital share of the key minerals needed to meet the rising demand for EVs.

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