BMW steps up sustainable sourcing of lithium
The German automotive giant will be accelerating its expansion of e-mobility in the coming years. This will also increase the need for lithium in order to secure a steady flow of battery cells. Therefore, the company will source lithium from a second 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. BMW's official goal is that by 2030, at least half the company’s global sales are to come from fully-electric vehicles. This goal will also increase the need for lithium and for that very reason the automotive group has added yet another supplier to its roster. “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, responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network at BMW Group, in a press release. 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 a 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 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 describes as "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 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.