Feb 20, 2024 - News

Lithium summit highlights industry's potential for Arkansas

Animated illustration of a charging battery stylied as a neon light.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

ExxonMobil plans to produce enough lithium from its land leases in south Arkansas to power 1 million electric vehicles a year by 2030, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Driving the news: The first Arkansas Lithium Innovation Summit — a gathering of nearly 700 industry professionals, policymakers and ancillary business leaders — was held last week in Little Rock.

Why it matters: Demand for lithium batteries will increase as consumers continue to adopt electric cars. In the U.S. the need is expected to grow sixfold by 2030, turning into a $55 billion annual industry.

State of play: The nascent extraction industry in Arkansas has yet to produce any commercial-grade lithium, an integral part of rechargeable batteries. But Canada's Standard Lithium and ExxonMobil are betting new technologies will squeeze the mineral from the Smackover formation.

How it works: Briny water is pumped from the formation and circulated through several proprietary filters designed to capture lithium, which then must be processed further before it can be used in batteries.

  • The brine is returned to the formation, making the process more environmentally friendly than strip or evaporative mines.

Quick take: Much work remains; the direct extraction process hasn't yet proven to be financially viable.

  • "At pilot scale, most work, but the challenge is around commercializing it — how you integrate that technology with all the other elements within that process flow to be able to produce [a] product people need safely and reliably," said Patrick Howarth, lithium global business manager for ExxonMobil.
  • The lithium industry must scale tenfold by 2040 to meet the United Nations' 2050 net-zero goals, said Andrew Miller, chief executive of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
  • Lithium is a challenging market, Standard Lithium CEO Robert Mintak told the Democrat-Gazette, but investors see now as the right time to get into the industry.

What they're saying: "Who knew that our quiet brine and bromine industry had the potential to change the world?" Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in opening remarks at the Little Rock summit.

  • "There are plenty of reasons for us to be bullish on Arkansas lithium. Frankly, we can do it cleaner here than it's produced anywhere else in the world."
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More NW Arkansas stories

No stories could be found

NW Arkansaspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios NW Arkansas.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more