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Exxon Mobil enters American lithium mining game: 'We see an opportunity'

To extract the lithium, Exxon experts are using a direct approach.

To extract the lithium, Exxon experts are using a direct approach.

Photo Credit: iStock

One of the world's largest dirty oil and gas producers is entering the lithium sector, promising a modern method to extract a metal vital to electric vehicles and other clean technology

The New York Times reports that Exxon Mobil's new lithium mission is based at a facility in Arkansas. 

"Electrification is going to be a major component of the energy transition, and we bring highly relevant experience to the production of lithium," Exxon's president of low carbon solutions, Dan Ammann, said in the Times report. 

Despite this rhetoric about an "energy transition," Exxon has no plans to dump its enormous oil and gas production. Underscoring this, in early October, Exxon acquired the oil company Pioneer Natural Resources for nearly $60 billion, reinforcing its ties to dirty fuels.

The lithium mining industry

Lithium is hard to gather and usually requires invasive mining. And, while new lithium harvesting breakthroughs are promising alternatives to procuring the valuable metal, a commitment from oil giant Exxon could help to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers

The move comes with an obvious plus for Exxon, as well. "We see an opportunity to deploy that will be highly profitable," Ammann told the Times. 

To extract the lithium, Exxon experts are planning to use a "direct" approach, drilling wells that are about 10,000 feet deep. It will pull briney water out, extract the lithium (using solvents, membranes, and filters), and put the brine back in the ground, all per the Times article and a video clip on the company's website. 

Lithium is commonly collected via vast evaporation brine pits that can contaminate water and create other hazards

"It's a more sustainable method than currently is available," Exxon customer development advisor Layne Bashor said about Exxon's novel technique. 

The Times interviewed lithium researcher Benny Freeman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who is skeptical about this project's ability to move the needle much on dependence on China for lithium. 

But, he said, it's a "good start."  

Mining in Arkansas

The company has bought 120,000 acres worth of drilling rights in Arkansas for the lithium endeavor. The goal is to start making lithium in 2027. Officials want to produce enough to "supply more than a million electric vehicles a year by 2030," per the Times. 

Bashor said in the clip that the move is about more than profit for Exxon. EV sales are hitting milestones as Tesla and other companies lower prices to maximize their share of the growing market. 

It all adds up to a need for more lithium. "It's really an opportunity for us to help solve some of the societal problems associated with transportation, reducing emissions, and environmental impact," Bashor said in the clip. 

Exxon's lithium mining announcement comes as more details are unearthed about the company's apparent comprehensive efforts to deceive the public about our warming climate and its role in causing it. 

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