- By Darren Thompson
Tamarack, Minnesota—Electric automaker Tesla signed a deal on January 10, 2022, with Talon Metals, a mine in northern Minnesota that plans to supply nickel concentrate in the next few years. Tesla said it agreed to buy 75,000 tonnes (165 million pounds) of nickel over six years, with an option to increase the amount it purchases, making the deal worth $1.5 billion based on the price of nickel.
“This agreement is the start of an innovative partnership between Tesla and Talon for the responsible production of battery materials directly from the mine to the battery cathode,” said Talon CEO Henri van Rooyen in a press release. “Talon is committed to meeting the highest standards of responsible production that is fully traceable and that has the lowest embedded CO2 footprint in the industry.”
Nickel is a key metal that is said to extend the range of electric vehicles, and demand for the mineral is expected to increase over the next decade as the automobile industry supplies more electric vehicles.
Talon Metals, along with partner Rio Tinto, is hoping to develop a mine in Tamarack, 50 miles west of Duluth, in Aitken County, where more than 100 people were arrested and face criminal charges for protesting against the construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 last year. The new mine is currently known as the Tamarack Project.
It is currently the only high-grade development-stage nickel project in the United States.
The Tamarack mine project is planned to operate for nine years and primarily extract nickel, but also some copper, cobalt, platinum group metals, and iron on 31,000 acres of private and public lands within the watershed of the Mississippi River.
The mine has not yet started the permitting process with the state of Minnesota, but U.S. News & World Report reported that Talon’s CEO van Rooyen stated the mine will be operational by January 2026.
Last year, Native News Online reported that the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision on January 13, 2020 that required PolyMet Mine to gather more information on the potential environmental impacts of its mine project and to impose a fixed term on the permit to mine. Opponents argued that the mine would threaten water, destroy habitats, and violate Ojibwe treaty rights. The decision was celebrated by environmental organizations and Tribes in northeastern Minnesota.
The same groups that opposed the PolyMet Mine, are skeptical of the Tamarack Project.
According to WaterLegacy, the potential mine poses an environmental threat because the area is a sulfide mineralized zone.
A sulfide mine would place many critical resources at risk, including a federal national wildlife refuge, state and Federal parks, and high quality wild rice waters. The mine could impact 1837 and 1854 Treaty rights such as wetlands and fisheries used by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe.
WaterLegacy is an award-winning grassroots non-profit 501(c)(3) organization formed in 2009 to counter the threat of sulfide mining proposed for Northern Minnesota. The organization’s work has focused on preventing pollution and destruction from the PolyMet mine, which is Minnesota’s first proposed copper-nickel sulfide mine.
As the automobile industry adjusts to renewable energy, resources to adapt to demands are currently being explored throughout the world, mainly through mines. The United States’ largest lithium mine, the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine, has been contested near Paiute homelands in northern Nevada. If approved, the mine would be operational for at least 46 years and could potentially produce a quarter of today’s global lithium demand, according to research on its website. Lithium is used in electric vehicle batteries.
“We need to move beyond a big hole in the earth and contaminating water,” said Honor the Earth Founder Winona LaDuke to Native News Online. “The next generations of batteries are beyond nickel.”
“Tesla needs to move towards hemp batteries,” LaDuke added.
There has been some research that shows batteries made out of the waste product of hemp can last up to eight times longer than lithium ion batteries. A Texas based company developed a lithion-ion battery alternative out of hemp using B4C-hemp – short for “boron carbide made from hemp.” Bemp Research Corporation tested B4C at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and according to its testing, the hemp battery offers significant advantages over lithium-ion batteries.
On Monday, Talon said in a press release that it is pleased that the U.S. Dept. of Energy has awarded the company $2.2 million for research and development to explore carbon storage potential at the Tamarack Nickel Project in Minnesota.
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