BMW secures $335M of lithium from Livent
Automaker continues to go to the mines for battery metals Metal Tech News – March 31, 2021
Last updated 4/6/2021 at 4:39pm
In a move to secure the lithium needed to power its e-mobility aspirations, BMW Group has entered into a deal with Livent Corp. to supply roughly US$335 million (285 million euros) worth of this vital battery metal beginning in 2022.
BMW Group plans to have about a dozen fully electric models on showroom floors and expects that battery EVs will make up more than half of its total sales by 2030. As a result, the German luxury automaker expects to deliver roughly 10 million EVs to customers over the next decade.
With nearly every other automaker around the globe also expanding EV line-ups, BMW Group has been looking toward the mining end of the supply chains to ensure it will have the lithium battery materials needed to build its luxury EVs.
In mid-2020, BMW secured a deal for roughly US$117 million (100 million euros) of the sustainably sourced cobalt needed for the lithium-ion batteries and previously entered into a deal to source lithium from a hard rock mine in Australia.
Further details on BMW Group's earlier battery metal contracts can be read in BMW sources sustainable Moroccan cobalt in the July 9, 2020 edition of Metal Tech News and Plenty of lithium to go around for now in the January 15, 2020 edition of Metal Tech News.
The deal with U.S.-based Livent, which extracts its lithium from brine in Argentina, will expand and diversify BMW's supply of this vital battery ingredient.
"Lithium is one of the key raw materials for electromobility. By sourcing lithium from a second supplier, we are securing requirements for production of our current fifth generation of battery cells. At the same time, we are making ourselves technologically, geographically and geopolitically less dependent on individual suppliers," said Andreas Wendt, member of the BMW Board of Management responsible for purchasing and supplier network.
The salt lakes in the border region between Argentina, Bolivia and Chile are home to roughly half the world's lithium reserves. In conventional lithium mining, brine from the layers below the salt lakes is pumped out of the ground and evaporated in shallow basins.
Livent, which has been supplying global lithium needs for nearly 80 years, extracts this lightest of metals from a brine resource in northern Argentina. Instead of the traditional evaporation method of extracting lithium from South American brines, Livent uses a proprietary method that is considered particularly sustainable.
To minimize the impact on the surrounding ecosystem, most of the brine is returned directly to the surrounding habitat after the lithium is recovered. This helps to preserve the balance between the brine layers and groundwater layers. Without the need for evaporation basins, the Livent process also has a smaller environmental footprint.
Considering that the massive global transition to electric mobility is expected to drive up the annual lithium demand by more than 700% over the next decade, there is concern over the water-balance ramifications of extracting lithium from brines, especially with the use of evaporation.
Being able to demonstrate that its battery materials are coming from environmentally and ethically responsible sources is a cornerstone of BMW's electric mobility transition strategy.
As such, BMW Group became the first automotive manufacturer worldwide to join the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a multi-stakeholder governed initiative that has developed guidelines for responsible extraction of raw materials and defined strict requirements for meeting its environmental and social standards.
With the goal of having all its mining suppliers certified according to IRMA standards, BMW recommended that Livent join this responsible mining group. Now a pending member, Livent is the first company with mining operations in Argentina that has committed to undergo a third-party sustainability audit required for IRMA membership.
BMW and BASF, a leading supplier of the lithium battery cathode material, have commissioned the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Massachusetts Amherst to conduct a scientific analysis of the water use of different lithium mining methods in South America.
The study aims to improve the scientific understanding of the relationship between fresh water and lithium brine aquifers, to evaluate different technologies and thus provide the foundation for assessing sustainable lithium mining. Results from this study, expected to be published early next year, will provide companies with a scientific basis to make more informed decisions on sustainable lithium mining in Latin America.