Exxon Mobil said Nov. 14 it’s looking to become a leading lithium producer for electric vehicle batteries, with the company announcing that it has begun the initial production phase at a field in southern Arkansas.
The company expects to commercialize lithium production by 2027 and is evaluating growth opportunities globally. Exxon has set a goal to produce enough lithium to supply the manufacturing needs of “well over a million EVs per year,” the company says, adding that it’s having ongoing conversations with potential customers.
The company says it will brand its offering as Mobil Lithium, reflecting its legacy within the automotive industry.
In a news release, Exxon described the chemical process involved in its mining activities, which will take place in the Smackover limestone formation in Arkansas.
The extraction process will begin with conventional oil and gas drilling methods to access lithium-rich saltwater from reservoirs about 10,000 feet underground, the company says.
Exxon will then use direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology to separate lithium from the saltwater. The company will remove the lithium and convert it onsite to battery-grade material. The company plans to reinject the remaining saltwater into the underground reservoirs.
The company says the DLE process produces fewer carbon emissions than hard-rock mining and requires significantly less land.
Lithium development within the U.S. will contribute to energy security, support manufacturing and advance domestic climate policy objectives, the company says. Nearly all lithium today is produced outside of North America.
“Lithium is essential to the energy transition, and ExxonMobil has a leading role to play in paving the way for electrification,” says Dan Ammann, president of Exxon Mobil Low Carbon Solutions. “This landmark project applies decades of Exxon Mobil expertise to unlock vast supplies of North American lithium with far fewer environmental impacts than traditional mining operations.”
Shortly after Exxon’s announcement, Standard Lithium, which also has projects underway in the Smackover formation, issued a statement asserting its position as a leader in North American lithium development. The Vancouver, British Columbia, company in partnership with Koch Industries and specialty chemical producer Lanxess, expects to begin supplying domestic customers in the 2026-2027 timeframe.
The company, operating in the East Texas Smackover region, has developed three new wells with lithium concentrations approaching levels of a global scale resource, says Standard Lithium CEO Robert Mintak. Like Exxon, the company is using the DLE method.
DLE is a newer innovation that is expected to be more sustainable brine extraction process than conventional solid-liquid separation techniques, says Chemical Processing columnist Barry Perlmutter, who shared an excerpt from a recently completed market research paper he wrote on the topic.
“Although much information about industrial process for this technology is yet to be fully publicized, the process generally discussed is flowing brine through a lithium-bonding material using adsorption, ion-exchange, membrane-separation or solvent-extraction processes followed by purification process to obtain lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide,” he wrote in the paper. “It is anticipated that DLE would reduce the footprint of evaporation ponds, significantly increase recovery and product grade, reduce the use of reagents and lower operating costs.”