Tesla, the electric car for the masses fuelled by geothermal

Tesla, the electric car for the masses fuelled by geothermal Screenshot from Model 3 unveil March 31, 2016 (source: Tesla via YouTube)
Alexander Richter 1 Apr 2016

The unveil of the new Model 3 car of Tesla made a big splash yesterday, the interesting part is that geothermal energy plays part in it.

With the much anticipated launch event for the new Model 3, Tesla made quite the splash yesterday. Now less then 24 hours later, the company has received more than 130,000 reservations with a $1,000 pre-payment to be made. Incredible.

While some voices are are seeing the conventional/ traditional car companies lagging behind in electric mobility, others see a healthy competition that will help rethink how we drive and “power” our cars. Time will tell where things are going.

The interesting thing is that in every Model 3 car, Tesla will build there is a piece of geothermal energy.  You might be asking why. Let me explain.

Electric cars need batteries, and batteries for cars are being built using Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries. Lithium is a soft silver-white metal used for the batteries as an anode, where lithium ions move from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge and back when charging. Li-ion batteries have the advantages of higher density, meaning longer life, but also represent a high cost per unit.

Lithium resources can be found in various countries with the largest reserves to be found among others in Chile, Argentina, Australia, Canada, China and the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The mining for Lithium is costly and at this point in time rather little, essentially too little for the big increase in demand. 

With batteries as the core component of electric cars, the economics of sourcing lithium and build the batteries is crucial for a future of electric cars. So while government incentives have surely played an important role, the access to lithium in the State of Nevada seems to be one of the key decision points for Tesla to build its Gigafactory in Nevada. The idea with the Gigafactory is simple to create an economy of scale for the manufacturing of batteries that will help bring down the cost of batteries and help create an affordable car for the masses.

Lithium can be found in geothermal brine, e.g. in California and Nevada and there are efforts underway to derive Lithium from geothermal operations. One company Simbol Materials has been working on a method to derive lithium, manganese and zinc out of geothermal brine from geothermal operations in the Salton Sea area in California. While currently unclear what the status is on the company, there are others following suite, among them Dajin Resources which also wants to extract lithium from brine. So there is some correlation between the existence of Lithium with geothermal resources.

With Tesla’s Gigafactory planned to start operation this or early next year, the company plans to build batteries on a grand scale and this powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, but also from geothermal of geothermal power plants in the state of Nevada.

So while the extent of the impact of geothermal energy in the cars of Tesla is unclear, just the importance on the battery part is an interesting part of the incredible hype that Tesla has been able to create. It is also a great opportunity to showcase how our industry is helping shape the future and nobody knows about it … so lets spread the word. Go Tesla, go geothermal.