GM moves to secure critical U.S.-sourced lithium for electric vehicles

A couple walks toward the shore of the Salton Sea in Southern California. The shallow saline lake was formed accidentlaly in 1905 following the rupture of canal diverting water from the Colorado River to the agricultural area of California’s Imperial Valley.

Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images

General Motors is moving to secure U.S.-sourced lithium, a metal crucial to electric vehicle batteries, through a strategic investment and partnership with a company called Controlled Thermal Resources.

GM announced the deal Friday as a way to accelerate the adoption of lithium extraction methods that cause less impact to the environment and increase domestic supply of the metal. Both are major concerns of the Biden administration as well as investors as automakers release a slew of new EVs this decade.

Most lithium used in EV batteries is currently mined and processed outside of the U.S. It is expected to put the country at a disadvantage when it comes to producing battery cells domestically, which GM is currently investing billions of dollars in with plans to manufacture them in the coming years.

GM said it is investing “multi millions” of dollars into CTR, which plans to extract lithium from the Salton Sea Geothermal Field in Imperial, California. GM declined to disclose its exact investment.

As the first investor, GM said it will have first rights on lithium produced by the first stage of the project, including an option for a multiyear deal going forward if CTR’s lithium extraction process bears fruit.

“It has got a lot of potential and GM is the first investor to work with them to really try to accelerate it,” Tim Grewe, GM’s general director of electrification strategy and cell engineering, told CNBC.

The first stage of the project, which CTR is calling “Hell’s Kitchen,” is expected to begin yielding lithium in 2024. It’s expected to help GM meet its plan of eliminating tailpipe emissions from light-duty vehicles by 2035, officials said.

“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,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, in a statement.

CTR’s lithium extraction process includes a closed-loop, direct extraction process that results in a smaller physical footprint, no production tailing and lower carbon dioxide emissions when compared with traditional processes like pit mining or evaporation ponds, according to GM.

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