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Is Exxon eyeing lithium? Reports of oil company in talks with Tesla, VW and Ford to supply the metal

Is ExxonMobil getting into lithium?

Bloomberg reports that the oil major is in talks with electric-vehicle maker Tesla and conventional carmakers such as Volkswagen, Ford and others to supply the mineral for their EV batteries. The talks also include electric components and battery makers such as Samsung and SK On, the report said.

Exxon does not currently manufacture the battery metal, so any talks would have to be preliminary.

Last month, Reuters reported that Exxon had agreed to partner with Tetra Technologies in studying ways to develop over 6,100 acres on land in Arkansas, USA, containing lithium-rich brine. Earlier this year the oil company acquired more than 100,000 acres of land in Arkansas from Galvanic Energy. 

RELATED: ExxonMobil buys carbon capture company Denbury Inc for $4.9 bn

If Exxon does decide to extract lithium from its lands, the decision will be a fillip for a technology known as Direct Lithium Extraction. DLE has not yet been commercialized, but last month, Reuters reported that Exxon had held talks about licencing the technology from lithium extraction and processing company International Battery Metals.

Lithium is highly reactive, so the metal isn't found in nature in pure form. Instead, it is a constituent of salts or other compounds. DLE refers to three main chemical processes that allow for a quick extraction of the metal into saleable conditions. These are:

i) Adsorption: Sorbents such as aluminum-layered double hydroxide chloride, or LDH, is used to physically adhere to the lithium for selective removal

ii) Ion Exchange: A physicochemical process is used to replace undesirable ions with other ions of the same electrical charge.

iii) Solvent extraction: Capturing lithium chemically or physically from brine and transforming it into lithium chloride.

Alternatively, Exxon might also be one of the companies trying to acquire Sigma Lithium. The Canadian-based miner, which has an operational project in Latin America, is in talks with companies looking to buy it, CEO Ana Cabral-Gardner has said.

Sigma has said if there is no sale, the company would be open to partnerships with other companies. The company's Grota do Cirilo hard rock lithium mine in Brazil commenced production earlier this year. Sigma has signed deals to supply a quarter of the mine's output to South Korean battery company LG Energy Solution. The remaining will be offloaded on the spot market. 

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