BMW makes deal for lithium sourced from salt lakes in Argentina

To make a dent in the electric vehicle world, as Tesla has demonstrated so well, car companies need a reliable source of batteries. That in turn relies on a reliable source of lithium and the other minerals required for battery production. Lack of battery supply has hampered electric car production plans at some companies, such as Kia which was unable to expand Kia Soul EV production. BMW wants to be taken seriously as a supplier of electric vehicles, and their announcement today underscores that desire.

Namely, the BMW Group signed a supply contract with Livent, which will deliver lithium directly from its mine in Argentina to BMW’s battery production plants. The deal starts in 2022. The value of the contract is pegged at 285 million euros.

BMW has an existing deal for supply of lithium from hard rock deposits in Australia. This deal is different in two ways. First, the source in this case are brines in salt lakes in Argentina. Second, the supplier is claiming a method that emphasizes sustainable water use and minimizes the impact on local ecosystems and communities.

That will surely address one of the complaints that people have about electric vehicles – that production of the minerals is hard on the environment and on the people near the production facilities.

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In December, the BMW Group announced a plan to fund research into sustainable lithium production in South America. The goal of the research is minimizing the environmental impact of lithium production, and at the time BMW said it was “making sure that we don’t burn down our planet while trying to save it.” BMW has made related announcements that it would no longer use rare earth minerals, and that it would source sustainably produced cobalt from Morocco.

Both lithium and cobalt is delivered directly to BMW’s partners CATL and Samsung SDI for battery cell production.

BMW Group steps up sustainable sourcing of lithium for battery cell production to ensure rapid e-mobility expansion

  • Multi-year contract worth around 285 million euros with US company Livent
  • Responsible extraction of lithium in Argentina
  • Participating in study of sustainable lithium extraction in South America
  • Wendt: “Making ourselves technologically, geographically and geopolitically less dependent on individual suppliers”

Munich, Germany – March 30, 2021… The BMW Group will be accelerating its expansion of e-mobility in the coming years. By 2030, at least half the company’s global sales are expected to come from fully-electric vehicles. This will also increase the need for lithium, an important raw material for production of battery cells. For this reason, the company will source lithium from a second leading supplier, US-based Livent. The value of the multi-year contract will total around 285 million euros. Livent will supply the lithium directly to the BMW Group’s battery cell manufacturers from 2022 on.

“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 Dr Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network.

The BMW Group already signed a contract for the procurement of lithium from so-called hard-rock deposits at Australian mines back in 2019. Now, the company is broadening its supplier base and additionally sourcing lithium from Argentina, where the raw material is obtained from brine from salt lakes. Livent employs an innovative method, that emphasises sustainable water use and minimises the impact on local ecosystems and communities. The company will also contribute important data to the study of sustainable lithium mining initiated by the BMW Group.

The BMW Group sources critical raw materials like lithium and cobalt directly from producers and makes them available to its battery cell suppliers. In this way, the company creates complete transparency over the origin and mining methods of the material.

Sustainable lithium extraction in Argentina
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 obtains lithium from a brine resource in northern Argentina, using a proprietary method that is particularly sustainable. To minimise the impact on the surrounding ecosystem, most of the brine used is returned directly to the surrounding habitat and not evaporated. This largely preserves the balance between the brine layers and groundwater layers. Solvents and other chemicals do not come into contact with the environment during this process. It also takes up much less space, since evaporation basins are barely used. The company is also involved in local educational programmes and infrastructure measures.

Lithium water study in cooperation with University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Massachusetts Amherst
The BMW Group and BASF commissioned a scientific analysis of the water use of different lithium mining methods in South America from the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Massachusetts Amherst in late 2020. The study will investigate the impact of lithium mining on local water resources and the surrounding ecosystems.

The aim is 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. The study will provide companies with a scientific basis to make more informed decisions on sustainable lithium mining in Latin America. The results of the study should be available in the first quarter of 2022.

Working towards strict IRMA standard for lithium mining
The BMW Group became the first automotive manufacturer worldwide to join the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) in early 2020. IRMA is 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. The BMW Group has set itself the goal of having mining suppliers certified according to this standard in the future. On the recommendation of the BMW Group, Livent has now become a pending member of IRMA, signifying its commitment to undergo a third-party audit in IRMA. Livent is the first company with mining operations in Argentina to have made this commitment, and one of the first lithium mining companies in the world to do so.

BMW Group ups the pace of electromobility expansion
The BMW Group will already have about a dozen fully-electric models on the roads from 2023. Between now and 2025, the BMW Group will increase its sales of fully-electric models by an average of well over 50 percent per year – more than ten times the number of units sold in 2020. By the end of 2025, the company will have delivered a total of around two million fully-electric vehicles to customers.

Based on its current market forecast, the company expects at least 50 percent of its global sales to come from fully-electric vehicles in 2030. At this point, there will no longer be any segment position in the BMW Group’s entire product portfolio where the company does not offer at least one fully-electric model. The company will also be capable of handling a much larger percentage of fully-electric vehicles if demand develops accordingly. In total, over the next ten years or so, the BMW Group will be releasing about ten million fully-electric vehicles onto the roads.

BMW Group In America
BMW of North America, LLC has been present in the United States since 1975. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA, LLC began distributing vehicles in 2003. The BMW Group in the United States has grown to include marketing, sales, and financial service organizations for the BMW brand of motor vehicles, including motorcycles, the MINI brand, and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars; Designworks, a strategic design consultancy based in California; technology offices in Silicon Valley and Chicago, and various other operations throughout the country. BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC in South Carolina is the BMW Group global center of competence for BMW X models and manufactures the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7 Sports Activity Vehicles. The BMW Group sales organization is represented in the U.S. through networks of 349 BMW passenger car and BMW Sports Activity Vehicle centers, 143 BMW motorcycle retailers, 116 MINI passenger car dealers, and 38 Rolls-Royce Motor Car dealers. BMW (US) Holding Corp., the BMW Group’s sales headquarters for North America, is located in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

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Journalist note: Information about BMW Group and its products in the USA is available to journalists on-line at www.bmwusanews.com, www.miniusanews.com and www.press.bmwna.com.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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