Automaker Stellantis said it would invest more than $100 million in California’s Controlled Thermal Resources, its latest bet on the direct lithium extraction (DLE) sector amid the global hunt for new electric vehicle battery metal sources. The investment by the Chrysler and Jeep parent announced on Thursday comes as the green energy transition and U.S. Inflation Reduction Act have fueled concerns that supplies of lithium and other materials may fall short of solid demand forecasts.
DLE technologies aim to mechanically filter lithium from saline brine deposits, eliminating the need for open pit mines and large evaporation brine ponds, the two most common but environmentally demanding material extraction methods. Several start-ups are working on the technology, and some, including Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, have invested millions of dollars or signed supply agreements with lithium producers in recent months in hopes of propelling it to commercial production.
The investment by Stellantis, which has said it wants half of its fleet to be electric vehicles by 2030, includes a commitment to nearly triple a previous order for lithium hydroxide monohydrate, which is used in batteries. The company said the purchase would begin in 2027 and last at least ten years.
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Stellantis seeks to boost the number of battery factories in North America, which will help reduce its dependence on foreign suppliers. Last year, it started production at a plant in Michigan and said it would build another one in Indiana. It has also teamed up with Wayne County Community College to establish a $27 million mechatronics program to train workers for EV assembly, maintenance, and battery design jobs.
Despite the strong interest in electric vehicles, the industry faces challenges. In addition to the higher costs of battery-powered cars, there is a need for more raw materials, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which are used in EV batteries. Stellantis has set a goal of selling a combined 25 battery-electric cars and SUVs in the United States this year, and it plans to expand that to 50 by 2030.
It has already invested in companies that make vital components such as motors and electronics. It has also started testing a new battery technology that could leapfrog lithium-ion, the current industry standard. The new technology, developed by Lyten, aims to increase energy density and cycle life.
Lyten’s prototype battery cells have achieved densities comparable to and, in some cases, superior to lithium-ion. But it must prove the technology is safe and scalable before commercializing it. It has opened a pilot cell line in San Jose to do that. The company aims to produce 200,000 cells to prove the tech and then scale up as needed. In the meantime, it is working with other carmakers to develop prototypes of the battery tech and help them incorporate it into their vehicles. The company is also partnering with battery giant Panasonic to create a manufacturing partnership.