ExxonMobil Begins Drilling for Lithium to Supply EV Market

A photo of an electric vehicle symbol made from chalk on the ground

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by | Nov 14, 2023

ExxonMobil is targeting lithium, tapping wells in Arkansas for the first time. 

The move positions ExxonMobil to be a leading producer of lithium in North America, and the company is offering the new product as Mobil Lithium. Lithium is critical to producing lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, as well as consumer electronics, energy storage systems, and clean energy technologies.

The news comes as the EV battery market is developing new innovations as the industry continues to grow. One recent report found the electric vehicle battery recycling market is projected to grow from $8.2 billion in 2022 to $20.07 billion by 2028. Recently Toyota also announced its plans to invest $8 billion in an EV battery plant in North Carolina. 

Tapping Lithium Supplies

ExxonMobil acquired the rights to 120,000 gross acres of the Smackover Formation in southern Arkansas earlier this year. The area is known as a prolific lithium resource of its type in North America, the company said.

“Lithium is essential to the energy transition, and ExxonMobil has a leading role to play in paving the way for electrification,” Dan Ammann, president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said in a statement. “This landmark project applies decades of ExxonMobil expertise to unlock vast supplies of North American lithium with far fewer environmental impacts than traditional mining operations.”

The region is also a well-known oil and natural gas hotspot, and ExxonMobil said it is working with local and state officials to scale up Arkansas’ emerging lithium industry. The company will use conventional oil and gas drilling methods to access lithium-rich saltwater from reservoirs 10,000 feet underground.

ExxonMobil will use Direct Lithium Extraction to Obtain the Materials

Then ExxonMobil will utilize direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology to separate lithium from the saltwater, and the lithium will be converted onsite to battery-grade material. The leftover saltwater will be re-injected into the underground reservoirs.

“This project is a win-win-win,” Ammann said. “It’s a perfect example of how ExxonMobil can enhance North American energy security, expand supplies of a critical industrial material, and enable the continued reduction of emissions associated with transportation, which is essential to meeting society’s net-zero goals.”

The DLE process produces fewer carbon emissions compared to hard rock mining, according to ExxonMobil, and it requires less land. The company is aiming for its first lithium production by 2027 and to produce enough lithium to supply the manufacturing needs of more than 1 million EVs per year by 2030. The company said it is also evaluating growth opportunities with the supply internationally and is currently in discussions with potential users.

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