Fossil fuel giant Exxon is making a bold move into the world of lithium mining, aiming to tap into the United States’ vast lithium reserves to power the growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs). Currently, the U.S. has only one commercial-scale lithium mining site in Nevada, run by chemical manufacturer Albemarle. However, demand for lithium is surging, and Exxon is keen to secure its position in the market.
Exxon is making a strategic move into lithium mining in the United States, aiming to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles. The company plans to begin lithium production in Arkansas by 2027 and expects to generate enough lithium to supply the manufacturing needs of over a million EVs per year. While Exxon claims its direct lithium extraction technology will have fewer environmental impacts, concerns remain about the potential risks associated with freshwater consumption and threats to delicate ecosystems.
Exxon’s Commitment and Competition
While the Biden administration is pushing for more lithium mines, Exxon’s entrance into the lithium mining business is met with opposition from indigenous and environmental groups. Nonetheless, the company is determined to move forward, potentially challenging Tesla and various tech startups already in the lithium extraction race. Tesla, for example, is working on extracting lithium from clay in Texas, while Lilac Solutions aims to extract it from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. EnergyX, backed by General Motors, has also raised significant funds to unlock lithium in North America.
Exxon’s Timeline and Production Goals
Exxon has announced its intentions to start producing lithium in 2027 and is already engaging in discussions with potential customers, including electric vehicle and battery manufacturers. The company aims to produce enough lithium by the beginning of the next decade to meet the manufacturing needs of over a million EVs per year.
The Importance of Lithium in Battery Technology
Lithium plays a crucial role in the production of modern batteries, enabling the shift towards renewable energy sources and the rapid growth of the electric vehicle market. Exxon wants to capitalize on its early experience in lithium-ion battery production, which it pioneered in the 1970s. However, the company later abandoned the business due to a lack of foresight regarding its scaling potential.
Environmental Considerations and Potential Risks
Exxon claims that its direct lithium extraction technology will result in fewer environmental impacts compared to traditional mining operations. However, it is important to note that direct lithium extraction still carries its own environmental risks, including high freshwater consumption. Researchers from Argentina have also warned that ecosystems surrounding lithium deposits are fragile and play a crucial role in supporting livestock and rural populations.