GM leaps ahead in lithium mining race, secures next-gen extraction deal

Credit: EnergyX, Instagram

General Motors (GM) has secured a next-generation lithium extraction deal with Puerto Rico-based startup, EnergyX.

With the demand for lithium expected to surpass supply by 2030, automakers have never been more pressed to secure the resource, especially as it becomes increasingly essential for the future of their business, specifically regarding the production of electric vehicles. This has pushed many, including GM, further down its supply chain, buying up companies and securing supplies for the future. Now, GM has gone even further, investing in lithium extraction startup EnergyX, leading a $50 million investment round.

GM has already invested in countless extraction companies and their subsequent mining projects, primarily focusing on lithium, but today’s investment is distinct from all the rest. EnergyX, which GM has invested an undisclosed amount of capital into, is looking to pioneer a new lithium extraction method entirely, which could place GM at the forefront of the most affordable lithium on the planet.

Specifically, EnergyX specializes in “Direct Lithium Extraction” (DLE) technologies, which promise to produce battery-grade lithium from previously overlooked brine sources.

Currently, most lithium extraction is based on the simple and relatively effective “pond evaporation” extraction method, which only requires an extractor to pump out brine, let the water evaporate, and then process the remainder to create pure lithium. However, this process is time-consuming and involves significant chemical processing to get to pure lithium after evaporation. Worse than that, the alternative is even more expensive, more environmentally damaging, and exceedingly rare; hard rock lithium mining.

EnergyX uses a proprietary system to create pure lithium from brines that would typically not work as part of the “evap.” method, and according to the company, it achieves incredible material ROI. EnergyX proudly advertises that “the company’s LiTAS™ technology increases lithium recovery rates to over 90% from the current industry standard of 30-40% using ponds and hit 94% during their field trials.”

However, this system isn’t without its hurdles, and for many automakers, it may appear as a risky investment. Thus far, no DLE refining companies have achieved commercialization, with the most prominent long-lasting project being the BMW-backed Lilac Solutions Inc.

Along with this risk, GM does have some incredible upsides. Not only would it be investing at the ground floor of a potentially booming business and achieve outstanding extraction efficiency, but it would also receive “the right of first refusal” from its newest investment, essentially giving the automaker the right to buy ahead before anyone else.

In a comment to Teslarati, EnergyX explained that it does not currently own any lithium brine reserves but plans to be a refiner for other extractors in the Americas. The business plans to construct five demonstration facilities that will show off its capabilities to lithium extractors, notably within the “lithium triangle” of South America. These facilities will be built in Argentina, Chile, California, Arkansas, and Utah, respectively.

EnergyX also noted to Teslarati that it will begin supplying GM with battery-grade lithium in the coming years, though a specific timeline has not been made public.

Outside of this next-generation lithium extraction process that America’s largest automaker has invested in, it has also become a leader in investing in traditional lithium projects throughout the Americas. Perhaps most notably, thanks to a massive $650 million investment, GM is now the largest shareholder in the Lithium Americas corporation, which is developing North America’s largest lithium deposit; Thacker Pass, Nevada.

As for EnergyX, besides this series B investment round led by GM, it plans to offer an IPO in late 2024 and has already attracted the interest of numerous investment firms looking to get in as soon as the offering is available.

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GM leaps ahead in lithium mining race, secures next-gen extraction deal
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