GM to Secure EV Battery Supply Chain With Lithium Extraction Start-up
General Motors recently invested in EnergyX, a startup working to commercialize its direct lithium extraction and refinery processes. Through the deal, GM can tap EnergyX’s lithium offtakes for its growing lineup of battery electric vehicles.
General Motors recently led a $50 million Series B round raised by Puerto Rico-based Energy Exploration Technologies (EnergyX), inking a strategic agreement to help develop the startup’s direct lithium extraction and refinery processes.
EnergyX’s LiTAS system uses membrane technology to filter, separate, and refine lithium from salt brines. Image used courtesy of EnergyX
The move comes as the Michigan-based car giant wants to shore up its domestic supply chain for lithium-ion batteries. Like many market-dominant automakers, General Motors is pouring billions of dollars into expanding its electric vehicle business.
GM revealed in a July 2022 earnings call that it inked all the sourcing agreements needed to secure enough battery raw material—including cathode active material (CAM), lithium, nickel, and cobalt—to reach 1 million units of North American production capacity annually by 2025. Surpassing that milestone, the company is now investing in natural resource recovery and processing, as evidenced in this recent deal with EnergyX.
Converting Brine Into Lithium Metal for EVs
GM’s announcement touted EnergyX’s direct lithium extraction (DLE) and refinery processes, designed to transform lithium brine into battery-grade metal.
EnergyX’s technology could complement or replace conventional evaporation ponds, a land- and time-intensive method with efficiency limitations since much of the brine is lost in the filter process. GM billed EnergyX’s DLE process as cost-competitive, bringing an opportunity to reduce energy, land, and water use—benefits over existing brine lithium processing.
Lithium recovery is gaining interest among EV makers looking to cut costs and source their critical materials outside China, which currently controls a dominant share of the world’s lithium processing capacity.
Video used courtesy of EnergyX
The partnership is threefold: GM will help EnergyX commercialize its advanced DLE and refinery products. In exchange, GM gets access to the company’s lithium offtakes for exclusive use in its EV models, including material sourced from EnergyX's contracted mining companies in North and South America. GM will also extend strategic financing for potential lithium production sites in future supply chain expansions.
The partnership comes after EnergyX completed a successful pilot demonstration for its technology in South America’s “Lithium Triangle,” a region in the Andes that’s said to be home to around half of the world’s lithium resources.
Part of EnergyX’s LiTAS suite. Image used courtesy of EnergyX
How EnergyX’s Technology Works
The new funding from GM will boost EnergyX’s research and development (R&D) progress in pure lithium metal anodes and its solid-state lithium metal battery technology, called SoLiS. It’s also building a 40,000-square-foot R&D and manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas.
EnergyX’s Lithium Ion Transport and Separation (LiTAS) process uses membranes, solvents, and absorbents to improve lithium recovery for lithium-brine resources. The product has a higher recovery rate than incumbent processes and requires minimal fresh water and less than $100 per ton of power. It also provides one to two days of continuous processing.
The technology was initially built to work alongside existing evaporation pond-based approaches, but EnergyX now intends to scale LiTAS to replace those methods.
How EnergyX’s LiTAS stacks up against competing methods. Image used courtesy of EnergyX
LiTAS can convert lithium brine to battery-grade lithium hydroxide and high-purity lithium carbonate. It’s also working on transforming brine into anode-ready lithium metal, yielding higher capital and operating cost-savings than lithium hydroxide and carbonate.
Last year, EnergyX commissioned an in-field plant in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flat, which hosts 65% of the world’s known lithium reserves. The five-month pilot program in the notorious Lithium Triangle saw LiTAS recover 90% of the available lithium, far exceeding the industry’s current 30% to 40% recovery rate using ponds. Further field trials boosted that number to 94%.
An interior shot of EnergyX’s first pilot plant in Texas. Image used courtesy of EnergyX
Before its technology formally enters the market, EnergyX plans to build more demonstration plants in five regions across North and South America. Its mining partners include Australia-based mineral resource firm Orocobre, which partnered with EnergyX in 2020 as it sought technologies to improve its processes at its site in Argentina’s Salar de Olaroz.
EnergyX licensed its early-generation technology from the University of Texas in 2019, backed by a U.S. Department of Energy grant of $10.75 million. The company has secured over 60 patents and raised $524 million since its founding, per Crunchbase data. In 2022, it landed a $450 million funding agreement with Global Emerging Markets, an alternative investment group based in New York. Before that, it raised $20 million from investors in 2021.