CALIPATRIA, Calif., Oct. 7 (Businesshala) – Automakers, investors and even oilfield giant Schlumberger NV (SLB.N) have begun adopting eco-friendly technologies to produce lithium that Electric vehicles can help meet 25% or more of the global demand. Battery metal by the end of the decade.
Stelantis, Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures and others have invested millions of dollars or signed supply agreements with so-called direct lithium extraction (DLE) start-ups in recent months, with commercial production expected within the next few months. Efforts are on to advance the technology for year or two.
DLE technologies use less land and groundwater than hard rock mining and brine evaporation ponds – traditional methods of processing the white metal. Industry analysts see this as a new way to help ensure lithium supplies for the EV industry — if the technology can work at scale.
“More green lithium is the promise of this new technology,” said Casper Sage of BMW (BMWG.DE) venture capital fund BMW i Ventures, which this week invested in DLE tech start-up firm Lilac Solutions Inc.
DLE technologies are similar to common household water softeners, which remove metals from drinking water.
The process can take up to a few hours to filter the metal inside an average-sized warehouse. In contrast, traditional evaporation ponds can be hundreds of acres in size, permanently drain nearby aquifers and can take many years to produce lithium.
However, most DLE technologies are more expensive to operate than evaporation ponds, which use sunlight, and some require large amounts of fresh water and electricity.
Albemarle Corp (ALB.N) and other conventional lithium producers say they have studied DLE technologies, but think they will be mainstreamed by the end of this decade, given concerns about higher energy and water usage. Won’t come
“Access to clean water is one of the major barriers to DLE,” said John Peichel of the Water Technology Division of Suez PA (SEVI.PA), which sells equipment to the lithium industry.
Schlumberger, known for his hydraulic fracturing work, is building a DLE project in Nevada and says its “ultimate goal” is to produce lithium without any freshwater. That’s a goal the US Department of Energy is supporting with a $4 million competition for the best geothermal lithium technology development.
Potential hurdles haven’t deterred Wall Street’s interest in so-called green lithium.
Shares of Standard Lithium Ltd. have risen six-fold since it began trading in New York in July, even though the company’s DLE technology is still being piloted in Arkansas.
Shares of Australia’s Vulcan Energy Resources Ltd (VUL.AX) are up 40% since August on plans to supply automakers Stellantis and Renault SA (RENA.PA) from their German DLE project.
Chris Berry, an independent industry analyst at House Mountain Partners, says that based on current announcements, DLE could produce a quarter of the global lithium supply by the end of the decade, though he notes that not all technologies should be treated equal. Other industry consultants put that figure even higher.
Global demand for lithium last year stood at about 320,000 tonnes, and is expected to reach one million tonnes by 2025 and three million tonnes by the end of the decade.
“Investors must weigh the benefits of DLE technology against the many challenges in tailoring the technology for each lithium deposit,” Berry said.
One area that has attracted the attention of DLE developers is Salton Sea, California, about 160 miles (258 km) southeast of Los Angeles. Superhot brine with a lithium vortex beneath the area, which sits atop the San Andreas Fault.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA.N) and EnergySource LLC are studying ways to add DLE technology to existing power plants there so they can process lithium while producing electricity.
Nearby, privately controlled Thermal Resources Ltd. is developing a geothermal lithium brine project to supply General Motors, stating that the CTR could supply “a significant amount of our lithium needs” by 2024. .
That project, as well as a similar project in Argentina, is supported by Lilac Solutions’ technology and is seen by some analysts as one of the first commercial trials of DLE.
Lithium prices are close to all-time highs, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, so DLE’s focus continues to fuel the race for new technologies.
Teg Egan, chief executive of Energy Exploration Technologies Inc., a privately held company working with Argentine lithium manufacturer Orocobre Ltd (ORE.AX), said, “Lithium supply is the main barrier to electrification and DLE is helping to boost that supply. can help.”