Elon Musk asked companies to ‘please mine more nickel’ for Tesla batteries. Now he may be getting his wish—in Tanzania

Kabanga Nickel Ltd. is seeking to raise $1.3 billion for a massive mining project in Tanzania that the company says could help ease electric-vehicle manufacturers’ insatiable demand for nickel.

“We are accelerating these kind of discussions as quickly as possible,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Showalter, a former investment banker, said in an interview. “Because of the quality of the project, we have developed substantial interest.”

Kabanga is trying to secure funding for a $950 million mine and $350 million refinery that would be developed simultaneously in the northwest part of the country. The project would eventually produce as much as 50,000 tons of nickel cathodes a year, as well as smaller amounts of copper and cobalt. The company plans to bring it online by 2024, with an additional year to reach a steady state of production. 

Nickel, traditionally used to make stainless steel, is also a key component in lithium-ion batteries, allowing vehicle manufacturers to reduce the use of cobalt, which is more expensive and has a less transparent supply chain. Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has asked companies to “please mine more nickel.” 

Deliver to Musk

“I would emphatically say we are very much positioned to start delivering to Mr. Musk and all other strategic battery EVs,” said Showalter. Competition among electric-vehicle companies to secure future supplies puts Kabanga in a “pretty strong competitive environment” as it negotiates with investors, he added. 

The Tanzanian government has a 16% stake in the project, which was previously owned by Barrick Gold Corp. and Glencore Plc. Their joint venture lost a license for the undeveloped project in 2018, when Tanzania introduced a new mining regime. 

Kabanga plans to process the metals in a refining process that uses less electricity and has a reduced carbon footprint, which may help it sell its output at a premium, according to Showalter. The Tanzanian government granted the Kabanga project a special mining license on Sept. 27. The nickel deposit could be exploited for 30 years.

“The world needs clean nickel and we are not going to be the only solution, but we are the next fast-growing project,” he said. 

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