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Tesla to start talks on plans to invest in electric vehicle, lithium batteries and power generation in Indonesia


JAKARTA - US green energy giant Tesla will start discussions with the Indonesian authorities next week on its investment plans to set up plants in the country to make electric vehicle (EV), lithium batteries and power generators after the local government on Thursday (Feb 4) confirmed receiving a proposal letter from the carmaker.

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This follows moves by two global EV battery giants - China's CATL and South Korea's LG Chem - which have earlier made advanced talks to invest billions of dollars in South-east Asia's largest economy, which holds a quarter of nickel reserve, a key raw material to make EV batteries.

"Tesla's proposal is a bit different from CATL and LG Chem. The base technology that Tesla will use is different," Mr Septian Hario Seto, Indonesian deputy minister in charge of mining and investment, told a virtual media briefing on Friday.

Transfer of technology is a key consideration as Indonesia requires investors coming to the country to commit to this key area.

"We are excited to work with Tesla. Tesla's lithium battery technology is among the world's best. If we have investment from CATL, LG Chem - which also have a very good technology - plus Tesla, Indonesia will pick up a lot to learn," Mr Seto added.

Tesla will build an EV plant in India's Karnataka state, local media reported.

CATL, the world's largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, shipped 40.7 gigawatt hours (GWh) last year, followed by the second-largest maker Panasonic with 30.7GWh and LG Chem with 13.3GWh, according to Bloomberg.

CATL has recently secured a deal to supply battery packs to Tesla, which overtook Toyota in mid-2020 to become the world's most valuable carmaker. Panasonic was previously the long-time supplier of Tesla.

State-controlled gold and nickel miner Aneka Tambang will be the local partner of these giant companies, and will ensure continued supply of the raw material.

With Tesla, the talks will also cover a plant to make an energy storage system (ESS), which involves a device that stores energy to supply to homes or industries during peak times when energy demand far surpasses supply, said Mr Seto.

"It works the way mobile phone's power banks work, but an ESS may supply power to homes and industries. Its size could be tens of megawatts or even a hundred megawatt," Mr Seto said.

The government has been trying to encourage the setting up of an end-to-end EV industry in the country. In 2015, it started the construction of a nickel industrial park on 2,000ha in Central Sulawesi province that has today become the world's largest, producing millions of tonnes of stainless steel slabs. Nickel is also used to make steel.

Also at Friday's briefing, Mr Seto said Indonesia is on track to have China's Tsingshan and US copper and gold miner Freeport work together to build a US$2.5 billion (S$ ) copper smelter by 2023 in North Maluku province's Weda Bay.

"Negotiations are under way. The target is that we have this concluded by end-March," Mr Seto said, adding that about 92.5 per cent of the project cost would be covered by Tsingshan, and 7.5 per cent by Freeport, and that the project would be mutually beneficial to all parties.

Tsingshan will benefit as it could develop the downstream industries that produce copper derivatives that could in turn be used in electric vehicles, while Freeport will also benefit as it is required by the existing law to build a smelter to continue its mining operations beyond 2023, Mr Seto explained.

"Three commodities that we have in abundance that would play a strategic role in renewable energy development are nickel, copper and bauxite. An EV uses four times more copper than a conventional car. Solar panels and wind power plants use bauxite and copper derivatives significantly," he added.

Published : February 06, 2021

By : Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja The Straits Times/ANN