On Monday US oil giant Exxon Mobil announced plans to begin its first production of lithium from deposits in south-west Arkansas by 2027 to support the electric vehicle (EV) market. Lithium is a vital component of EV batteries.

Large oil companies are looking to invest in the electrification sector as governments in the US and Europe continue to design policy for advancing the use of EVs and reducing fossil fuel consumption. Shell is the single largest operator of EV charging networks across the UK though its subsidiary ubitricity.

Exxon acquired the rights to 120,000 acres of land in southern Arkansas known to hold extensive lithium resources in early 2023. The company claims that its previous oil and gas projects in southern Arkansas have given it specialist knowledge of the area’s geology. Conventional oil and gas drilling methods will be used to reach lithium-rich saltwater reservoirs 10,000ft underground. Direct lithium extraction technology will then separate the lithium from the saltwater and the lithium will be converted into battery-grade material onsite, according to Exxon’s press release.

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

Currently, the US has only one active lithium mine – in Nevada – which accounts for 1% of global lithium production, while 98% of lithium production occurs in Australia, Latin America and China. Demand for the critical mineral is set to quadruple by 2030.

In September, the International Energy Agency warned that Europe was over-reliant on China for lithium imports, and recommended an increase in domestic production of the critical mineral in the West. The Exxon project will help to realise this.

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Commenting on the Exxon project, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “My administration supports this energy strategy that guarantees good, high-paying jobs for Arkansans – and we will continue to cut taxes and slash red tape to make that happen.”