GM invests in Calif. lithium sourcing for EV batteries

DETROIT — General Motors has agreed to a multimillion-dollar investment and collaboration with Controlled Thermal Resources to secure low-cost lithium from California that will be vital to its Ultium battery chemistry.

The investment is part of GM’s pledge to dedicate $35 billion to electric and autonomous vehicle development through 2025. The first stage of the project is expected to yield lithium in 2024.

GM’s Ultium batteries, which will power its next generation of EVs, starting with the GMC Hummer pickup this fall, are made with lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum. Today, the lithium GM uses is sourced from Asia and South America.

The lithium extracted by Controlled Thermal Resources will be produced through a closed-loop, direct extraction process, which leads to a smaller physical footprint and lower carbon dioxide emissions than the traditional processes of pit mining or evaporation ponds, GM said in a statement.

The automaker expects its work with Controlled Thermal Resources to lead to more lithium extraction methods that cause less harm to the environment. A significant amount of GM’s future lithium hydroxide and carbonate could be sourced from Controlled Thermal’s development called Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field in Imperial, Calif. The closed-loop direct extraction process will recover lithium from geothermal brine.

As GM scales Ultium-powered vehicles, a local, high-quality, ethically sourced supply becomes crucial, Tim Grewe, director of electrification strategy, told Automotive News.

“If it really goes to where we think it can go, and if we collaborate with them and innovate with them, it could be one of the best things we’ve ever been invested in,” Grewe said.

GM will be the first company to make such an investment in the Hell’s Kitchen development. The automaker will have first rights on lithium produced during the first stage of the project.

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

“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.”

Batteries remain one of the most significant costs of EVs. Lithium is a key material in their makeup and will become more central to battery use as GM considers lithium batteries with a protected anode, the automaker said.

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