Insight: Inside the race to remake lithium extraction for EV batteries

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana, June 16 (Reuters) – The global battle to reshape the lithium industry is sucking in oil producers, tech startups and entrenched mining giants, each jockeying to be the first to reinvent how a metal key to the green energy transition is produced.

A fleet of direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies are on the verge of tapping salty brine deposits across Europe, Asia, North America and elsewhere that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates are filled with roughly 70% of the world’s reserves of the metal.

At stake is influence over an industry expected to grow to more than $10 billion in annual revenue within the next decade as the successful DLE companies will supply lithium for electric vehicle batteries in hours or days, not months or longer as with existing large, water-intensive evaporation ponds and open-pit mines.

“The world needs abundant, low-cost lithium to have an energy transition, and DLE has the potential to meet that goal,” said Ken Hoffman, co-head of the EV Battery Materials Research group at McKinsey & Co.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric spotlighted global attention on the once-niche sector in April by outlining a radical plan to phase out evaporation ponds and deploy DLE across his country’s vast lithium reserves, although he did not choose a specific technology. Boric’s shock announcement was all the more surprising as no DLE technology has reached commercial production without the use of those ponds, sparking competition to be the first.

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