General Motors invests in EnergyX lithium mining

UAW Local 5960 member Kimberly Fuhr inspects a Chevrolet Bolt EV during vehicle production May 6, 2021, at the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township, Michigan.

Steve Fecht for Chevy

General Motors announced Tuesday that its venture capital arm will lead a $50 million funding round for EnergyX, a Texas-based startup developing a more efficient way to extract and process lithium from salt flats.

Lithium is an essential component of batteries for electric vehicles. As part of the deal, GM will also help develop EnergyX’s technology and will have first right of refusal to purchase lithium from any project developed by the startup.

EnergyX has demonstrated its technology with a pilot plant in South America’s ‘lithium triangle’, an area of ​​salt flats spanning parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile that contains more than half of the reserves world known lithium.

Brine pools at the Albemarle Corporation lithium mine in Calama, Antofagasta region, Chile, July 20, 2021.

Cristobal Olivares | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Currently, miners in the area extract lithium by pumping underground water to flush out the ore, then allowing the resulting brine to evaporate in a series of ponds. The process is relatively cheap, but it only recovers 30-40% of the total lithium, while using huge amounts of water and soil.

EnergyX’s pilot plant, which opened last year, has demonstrated that its technology can recover 90% or more of the lithium in brine while using significantly less energy, water and land than processes. existing.

EnergyX plans to use the new funding to build five larger demonstration plants in North America and South America.

For GM, a key priority is unlocking a North American supply of lithium, which is uncompetitive with global supplies using current extraction methods. The auto giant believes that EnergyX’s technology could reduce costs enough to make North American lithium mining viable, while minimizing the environmental impact of ore extraction.

GM will release its first-quarter results before U.S. markets open on April 25.

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