General Motors is making a multi-million-dollar investment to ensure its future range of light-duty electric cars and trucks have locally sourced and low-cost lithium needed for their battery packs.
The investment in the Australian firm Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) is centered on a lithium-rich deposit beneath the heated geothermal waters of the Salton Sea, located in Southern California. It is one of the largest known lithium brine deposits in North America. Southern California government officials believe that the Salton Sea has the potential to meet 40% of global lithium demand.
While GM has not specifically stated how much it will invest in this fledgling mining operation, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Needed: a stable supply chain
As the recent automotive chip shortage proves, an international web of raw material and parts supply can wreak havoc on the car industry when production slows, or is halted at any given point. From factory shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic, to shipping delays created by the grounding of the supertanker Ever Given in the Suez Canal, the world is more interconnected than ever before and this poses big risks for automakers.
Having a reliable U.S.-based source of lithium, a critical component in EV battery packs, is essential as GM holds it course to have an entirely emission-free, electric-powered light duty lineup of vehicles by 2035. GM has set the price for this bet on EV production at a cool $35 billion.
“Lithium is critical to battery production today and will only become more important as consumer adoption of EVs increases, and we accelerate towards our all-electric future,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.
“By securing and localizing the lithium supply chain in the U.S., we’re helping ensure our ability to make powerful, affordable, high mileage EVs while also helping to mitigate environmental impact and bring more low-cost lithium to the market as a whole,” added Parks.
Waiting for results
The first phase of CTR’s lithium extraction process is not expected to yield results until 2024. This first step is dubbed “Hell’s Kitchen,” and hopes are the Salton Sea lithium deposits could prove to be one of the richest in the world.
General Motors and CTR are also working to minimize the environmental impact of this venture. The closed-loop and direct extraction process is touted as having a smaller physical and carbon-emission footprint than traditional pit mining, or evaporative ponds.
“GM has shown great initiative and a real forward-thinking strategy by securing and localizing a lithium supply chain while also considering the most effective methods to minimize environmental impacts,” said said Rod Colwell, CTR’s Chief Executive Officer in a statement.
At present, the vast majority of lithium is presently mined in Australia, or in what’s known as the “Lithium Triangle” in South America, which encompasses large portions of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.