In the most proactive step to date by any automaker, Toyota Motor Company has entered a business agreement that will guarantee access to the raw Lithium needed to produce Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries for its future electric and plug-in electric vehicles. The deal involves a joint venture in Argentina between the Toyota Tsuro Corporation -- a trading organization partially owned by the automaker -- and Orocobre, Ltd., an Australian mining operation.
According to a story in Reuters, total investment in the Solar de Olaroz Project will be on the order of $80-$100 million -- depending on the results of a feasibility study will be undertaken at the Olaroz salt lake bed, thought to be one of the world's prime concentrations of raw lithium. The survey is due to be completed by this fall. Toyota Tsuro is expected to hold about a 25 percent share in this new undertaking, which will be controlled and operated by Orocobre.
Like other manufacturers, Toyota has been using nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery chemistry in its current hybrids. However, it intends to make the transition to Li-ion technology for future hybrid models as well as all of its upcoming plug-in and pure electric offerings. The move to secure raw materials necessary to make batteries for these vehicles dovetails perfectly with its recently announced plans to double its annual hybrid output to one million units by 2011. The project currently anticipates starting operations in 2012 with the goal of producing 15,000 tons of lithium carbonate per year by 2014. That amount would reportedly be sufficient to manufacture batteries for over three million Prius vehicles.