Talon Metals, the company behind a proposed Minnesota nickel mine, said Monday it has made a major supply deal with Tesla.
The electric vehicle giant has committed to buy 75,000 metric tons of nickel concentrate over six years from Talon's planned mine in Tamarack, about 50 miles west of Duluth. Tesla would also have rights to go above that amount.
The deal calls for Talon to make "commercially reasonable efforts" to open the mine by Jan. 1, 2026.
Nickel is a key ingredient for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Tesla has been increasingly hammering out deals directly with producers of the metal, as well as other components of lithium-ion batteries.
"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," Talon's CEO, Henri van Rooyen, said in a press statement.
Essentially, Tesla would claim more than half of the mine's production of nickel concentrate, which would be further refined before it could be used to make batteries.
Talon and its partner — global mining giant Rio Tinto — would create a rarity in the United States with the Tamarack project: a mine whose primary product is nickel, with copper as a secondary mineral.
Still, Talon must prove the economics of the mine to investors. And it has not yet undergone the state's environmental and mine permitting process, which is expected to begin in earnest next year.
Talon's pitch for the mine includes a "direct air" carbon capture system, which would suck CO2 from the air and permanently store it in rock waste from the mine. It is still in development, though a project based on a similar idea opened earlier this year in Iceland.
The concept may have helped sell Tesla on the Tamarack project.
"The Talon team has taken an innovative approach to the discovery, development and production of battery materials, including to permanently store carbon as part of mine operations," Drew Baglino, Tesla's senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering, said in a statement.
"Responsible sourcing of battery materials has long been a focus for Tesla," he said, "and this project has the promise to accelerate the production of sustainable energy products in North America."
The Tamarack Mine is likely to face opposition from environmental groups concerned with acid waste polluting lakes, rivers and wetlands.
With the EV market expected to grow exponentially, Tesla and other automakers have been increasingly making agreements directly with commodity suppliers to lock in materials for batteries.
Tesla's Elon Musk has publicly expressed concerns over nickel resources, saying in 2020 he would award a "giant contract" to nickel miners who can extract the mineral in an efficient and environmentally conscious way.
Last year, Tesla made a deal with mining giant BHP for an undisclosed amount of nickel from Australia. Also in 2021, Tesla also agreed to buy 42,000 tons of nickel over several years from a mine in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific.
Tesla's agreement with Talon is its first for nickel in the United States. The automaker also has deals directly with suppliers of lithium and graphite materials, other key battery components.
Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest mining company, began a serious prospecting program near Tamarack 20 years ago. In 2018, Rio signed on Talon as a joint venture partner for the mine; the smaller company now has a 51% stake in Tamarack.
Talon is based in the British Virgin Islands and run from Canada; its shares were at 47 cents Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange when trading was halted on news of the Tesla deal.