Volkswagen, Stellantis and GM turn to geothermal lithium for electric vehicle batteries

Major automakers Volkswagen, Stellantis and GM will use lithium extracted from geothermal water to produce batteries for electric vehicles. The method has a much smaller ecological footprint compared to lithium production in salt deserts and mines.

Volkswagen, Stellantis and General Motors (GM) have signed agreements with lithium producers Controlled Thermal Resource in the United States and Vulcan Energy Resources in Germany to secure lithium for electric vehicle batteries. They aim to secure a national lithium supply in order to break dependence on imports, mainly from China.

Stellantis was created in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the PSA Group.

It should be noted that Rio Tinto is planning to build a lithium mine and processing plant in Serbia, but it faces strong opposition from the population.

Technologies for extracting lithium from geothermal brine are still in development, but deals confirm they are on the verge of becoming profitable. The method is integrated with the production of electricity in geothermal power plants, which reduces expenses.

The two countries that have done the most to develop these technologies are Germany and the United States. It is therefore not surprising that Volkswagen and Stellantis have signed binding agreements with Vulcan Energy Resources of Germany and GM with Controlled Thermal Resource of the United States.

Vulcan Energy Resources to start delivering lithium in 2026

Photo: Vulcan Energy Resources

Volkswagen and Vulcan Energy Resources have signed an agreement to supply CO2-neutral lithium from the Upper Rhine Valley in Germany, VW said on its website.

The contract is for the supply of lithium hydroxide over a period of five years from 2026.

The product will help meet Volkswagen’s demand for future production of internal cells in both Germany and Europe, the company noted.

According to Vulcan, VW will purchase between 34,000 and 42,000 metric tonnes of battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

The Zero Carbon Lithium project aims to establish a sustainable and regional source of lithium from the largest deposit in Europe

VW said Vulcan is developing a CO2-free lithium production project in the Upper Rhine Valley using local, lithium-rich geothermal brine.

“Its Zero Carbon Lithium project aims to establish a sustainable and regional source of lithium from the largest deposit in Europe. The production process does not require fossil fuels or evaporative ponds, ”the automaker said.

The deal between VW and Vulcan was signed yesterday and a week earlier Stellantis struck a similar deal. Vulcan will supply battery grade lithium hydroxide in Europe for use in electrified vehicles to the Stellantis group. The five-year agreement calls for shipments to begin in 2026.

Stellantis noted Vulcan’s Zero Carbon Lithium project “uses geothermal energy to produce battery grade lithium hydroxide from brine without the use of fossil fuels and minimal water consumption, thereby reducing the generation of carbon in the battery metals supply chain ”.

It will purchase between 81,000 and 99,000 metric tonnes of battery-grade lithium hydroxide.

GM relies on the Salton Sea project

In July, the American automaker decided to support the project in California. The Salton Sea in the south of the state could provide 600,000 tonnes of lithium per year, an amount exceeding the current annual consumption of the metal in the whole of the United States. The salt lake is rich in geothermal water.

GM has agreed to establish a strategic investment and business collaboration with Controlled Thermal Resources to secure local and low-cost lithium, the company noted.

The lithium will be produced through a direct closed-loop mining process which results in a smaller physical footprint, no production residues and lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to traditional processes such as mining at open sky or evaporation ponds.

A significant amount of GM’s future battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate could come from CTR’s Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power development at the Salton Sea geothermal field in Imperial, Calif., GM said.

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