ExxonMobil is getting into the lithium production business. The company announced on Monday that it’s going to become a “leading producer of lithium” by opening its first drilling operation in southern Arkansas.
The demand for lithium has grown in the past couple of years, with the metal serving as a key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles, phones, laptops, and other tech. ExxonMobil plans to start producing lithium in 2027 and says it could make enough lithium to supply over 1 million electric vehicles per year by 2030.
Earlier this year, ExxonMobil purchased 120,000 acres of lithium-rich land spanning a geologic formation — called the Smackover Formation — in Arkansas. To access the lithium, the company will first drill 10,000 feet below the surface using gas and oil machinery. From there, it will then use direct lithium extraction (DLE) to separate the lithium from the saltwater it’s mixed with. Once that’s done, ExxonMobil will inject the saltwater back into the ground.
ExxonMobil says the DLE process “produces fewer carbon emissions than hard rock mining and requires significantly less land.” The company will produce the battery-grade lithium on-site, which it will call Mobil Lithium. This technically isn’t the first time ExxonMobil is getting involved in the battery business, as the company manufactured the first lithium-ion battery in the 1970s.
“Lithium is essential to the energy transition, and ExxonMobil has a leading role to play in paving the way for electrification,” Dan Ammann, the president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to ExxonMobil, Canada-based Standard Lithium also plans on extracting lithium from the Smackover Formation. Meanwhile, Lithium Americas has begun mining for the metal at Thacker Pass in Nevada, and other companies are eyeing California’s Salton Sea as a potential lithium extraction site.
Bringing lithium extraction stateside could make a big difference for EV automakers that want to produce batteries here in the US, as most of them currently source lithium from other countries, including Australia, Argentina, Chile, and China.