When you hear the name ‘ExxonMobil,’ you don’t normally think of electric car batteries or the rare minerals that go into making them. Well after months of vague signals, the oil and gas giant has just committed to become a “leading producer” of lithium for electric vehicles.
It’s a significant expansion of the oil giant’s diversification strategy at a time when automakers are starting to pay more attention to EVs despite operational and political challenges.
ExxonMobil will develop rights obtained this year in Arkansas’ Smackover formation, in news first reported by Reuters. The plan calls for separating lithium from salty groundwater and processing it onsite to battery-grade material.
Exxon plans to start production in 2027, and by 2030 provide enough for over 1 million EVs annually. For a sense of scale, this year U.S. EV sales cleared 1 million annually for the first time ever. They’ll be far higher by 2030, but that would nonetheless make Exxon a big supplier. The announcement calls ongoing work in Arkansas the “first phase” of North American production.
“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,” Dan Ammann, head of the company’s low carbon solutions unit, said in a statement.
It’s consistent with Exxon’s diversification plans focused on carbon capture, hydrogen and biofuels. They center on areas adjacent to their core businesses — in this case drilling, and managing water that comes with it.
The product will be branded “Mobil Lithium,” which Exxon calls a shoutout to Mobil’s history with the auto sector. The demand for lithium is expected to soar by the end of the decade and beyond.
The International Energy Agency sees demand for EVs and stationary storage rising fivefold by 2030 under nations’ existing policies — and potentially more if countries fight harder against climate change.
Australia, Chile and China are now the largest producers, while China is by far the biggest processor. Spurred on by Exxon’s announcement, rival Chevron is unsurprisingly starting to make noise too about getting into lithium.
To be honest, I’m amazed it took so long for these oil giants to officially come out and announce they are entering the world of lithium production for EVs. After all, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Exxon of course is still full steam ahead with oil production but cleverly covering its future bases too. With more countries and carmakers postponing their EV expansion plans, Exxon’s decision to keep one foot firmly planted in oil and gas for the time being while dipping its toes in the ‘pool’ of lithium production is a smart move indeed.