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Exclusive: GM Ventures leads $50M round for lithium tech startup EnergyX

Illustration of a mining cart full of batteries.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Energy Exploration Technologies has closed a $50 million Series B round led by GM Ventures, the company tells Axios.

Why it matters: The funding allows EnergyX to further develop its lithium extraction technology and allows GM to invest deeper into the mining of battery materials.

Details: The investment comes less than a year after EnergyX raised $450 million from private equity firm Global Emerging Markets Group with plans to go public by 2024.

Of note: Multiple companies are working on what's known as direct lithium extraction, among them Lilac Solutions, Standard Lithium, Livent and mining giant Albermarle.

  • Conventional lithium development calls for pumping brine from open-pit mines to large basins, where the water then evaporates. It's a lengthy process, environmentally hazardous, and has a yield rate of just 50%.
  • Direct lithium extraction enables a miner to skip that evaporation step, making minerals production more efficient with less impact — and with a yield rate close to 90%.

State of play: Automakers are in an arms race to lock down battery raw materials, including lithium.

  • The U.S. produces just 2% of the mineral, making it almost entirely dependent on imports.

Zoom in: GM in January announced a $650 million investment in Lithium Americas to jointly develop the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada.

  • Last summer it inked a six-year deal with Livent to supply lithium hydroxide from an operation in South America, and a contract with LG to provide the material for battery cathodes.

Meanwhile, Ford entered its own direct lithium extraction deals last year.

What's next: EnergyX built a pilot plant last year in Bolivia. It plans to build more in neighboring "lithium triangle" countries Argentina and Chile, as well as in California, Utah and Arkansas.

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