ExxonMobil has begun drilling for lithium in southwest Arkansas as part of the company’s long-term goal of becoming a leading producer of lithium, a key component of EV batteries. The company aims to produce lithium by 2027. By 2030, ExxonMobil lithium batteries are expected to supply the manufacturing needs of over one million EVs per year.
“Lithium is essential to the energy transition, and ExxonMobil has a leading role to play in paving the way for electrification,” said Dan Ammann, president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions. “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.”
Demand for lithium is expected to quadruple by 2030. Virtually all lithium today is produced outside of North America.
Earlier this year, ExxonMobil purchased the drilling rights on 120,000 acres of the Smackover formation in Arkansas, an area that is considered as one of the most prolific lithium resources of its type in North America.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the transaction cost over $100 million. A consultant for the seller estimated that the land could have around four million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent, or enough for around 50 million EVs.
The company will use conventional oil and gas drilling methods to access lithium-rich saltwater from reservoirs about 10,000 feet underground. Then, direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology will separate the lithium from the saltwater before it is converted onsite to battery grade material. Remaining saltwater will be reinjected into the underground reservoirs.
The ExxonMobil lithium 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.”
Ammann told the Journal that currently China, South America and Australia dominate the lithium market. He said that he believes that ExxonMobil’s lithium process will have a smaller environmental impact than the mining operations in those countries.
“And we’re building what we think will be a profitable and high-growth business for ExxonMobil,” Ammann said.
In July, the Journal reported on an ExxonMobil lithium-processing plant near Magnolia, Arkansas. The facility will be one of the world’s largest.
As more companies produce lithium, prices have dropped more than 60% through early October, reported the Journal. Additionally, growth in EV sales has eased and some automakers are cutting prices. Automakers, including Ford and General Motors, are also altering their overall EV plans and scaling back production.