GM secures green US geothermal lithium
From near-zero-carbon battery metal, power producer in SoCal Metal Tech News – July 2, 2021
Last updated 7/20/2021 at 3:34pm
In a move to help secure the lithium-ion battery metals required to achieve its aspiration of getting "Everybody in" an electric vehicle, General Motors has forged a strategic partnership with Controlled Thermal Resources Ltd. to source low-cost and environmentally responsible lithium from the Hell's Kitchen project at the Salton Sea Geothermal Field in Southern California.
"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," said Doug Parks, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain at GM. "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. GM looks forward to working with CTR, in addition to state and local leaders, in achieving these goals."
In addition to securing a domestic and low-cost supply of lithium for the four battery megafactories it is building and on the drawing board to be built in the United States by mid-decade, the deal with Controlled Thermal Resources will help minimize the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) footprint of lithium-ion batteries coming out of those factories and installed in the vehicles they will power.
Unlike typical lithium sources that require mining or large evaporation ponds, Controlled Thermal Resources is developing a closed-loop process that directly extracts the critical battery metal from brine at Hell's Kitchen, a Southern California project that sits above a massive load of both lithium and geothermal energy.
Almost like a self-perpetuating lithium-producing machine, the Hell's Kitchen operation will use the heat from the geothermal brine to power the extraction of lithium and a plant that will upgrade it to the lithium hydroxide used in EV batteries. The lithium-less brine will then be pumped back down into the ground from which it was drawn, and the excess zero-carbon electricity will be delivered to the power grid.
This means that Hell's Kitchen can deliver a continuous baseload of renewable power to the Southern California electrical grid, as well as near-zero-carbon lithium that goes into the batteries that store intermittent solar and wind sources of renewable energy and EVs that plug into that green energy.
For an American automaker that aspires to lead "in all aspects of the transformation to a more sustainable future," lithium from a facility that also delivers near-zero carbon electricity will add several green energy stars to the 30 EV models it plans to have on global showroom floors by 2025.
"GM has shown great initiative and a real forward-thinking strategy by securing and localizing a lithium supply chain while also considering the most effective methods to minimize environmental impacts," said Controlled Thermal Resources CEO Rod Colwell.
Hell's Kitchen has a total projected capacity of 1,100 megawatts of baseload renewable electricity – enough to power more than 1 million homes – and 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent (an industry standard for comparing various forms of lithium produced) per year.
Looking to ramp up operations in stages, CTR is planning to deliver the first 49.9MW of electricity by the end of 2023 and produce the first 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide in 2024.
To keep up with the demand for domestic and environmentally responsible lithium to feed into a rapidly expanding American EV supply chain, CTR anticipates it will need to ramp up additional production capacity alongside this first stage of development at Hell's Kitchen.
GM alone has committed to investing $35 billion into electric and autonomous vehicles by 2025. This is on top of heavy investments in North American EV and lithium-battery supply chains by Tesla, Ford Motor Company, and Volkswagen, to name a few.
"World-wide growth in electric vehicle adoption has highlighted the critical need to develop a strong and secure battery supply chain in the United States," Rod said. "CTR is fully committed to developing its significant lithium resource in response to this, and we look forward to collaborating with GM as we continue to accelerate these efforts."
While neither company divulged details of the arrangement, GM said its investment in CTR is expected to accelerate the adoption of low-environmental-impact lithium extraction methods and a significant amount of the Detroit automaker's future battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate could come from Hell's Kitchen.