BMW Invests in More Sustainable Lithium Extraction Process


BMW’s motorcycle and automobile divisions are hard at work on electrifying the brand’s lineup. In June, 2019, the Bavarians unveiled the E-Boxer electric motorcycle concept and followed that up with the CE 04 electric scooter in July, 2021. While BMW’s i3 and i8 electric cars have been on the market for years, it only recently introduced the iX electric SUV in October, 2021.

The latest model launch coincides with the Bavarians’ plan to transition increase its electric vehicle sales by 50 percent come 2030. That ambitious goal won’t only rely on the public to transition to electric vehicles but will require BMW to produce even more electric models. While electric motorcycles, scooters, and cars are environmentally friendly, harvesting the lithium required for electric batteries has been an unsustainable process.

The traditional procedure involves extracting brine from the earth’s crust that is high in lithium carbonate. Once pumped to the surface, the brine sits in evaporation pools for months. The solution is then sent to a recovery plant for additional purification. Requiring massive tracts of land and large water quantities, the operation is devastating to local environments and only captures 40 percent of the available lithium.

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Luckily, U.S.-based Lilac Solutions developed an extraction method that bypasses the need for evaporation pools, pulling lithium directly from brine with the company’s patented ion-exchange process. The new approach not only reduces greenhouse gas production by 80 percent but also harvests 70-90 percent of the available lithium (depending on the brine sample). Traditional lithium extraction operations typically require a decade to reach commercial production. Lilac Solution’s ion-exchange process reduces that time to two years.

“Innovative technologies provide better, more sustainable, and efficient access to raw materials,” stated BMW Senior Vice President of Indirect Goods and Services Wolfgang Obermaier. “By investing in these startups, we accelerate the development of new technologies, stimulate competition and provide momentum that will facilitate the access of these young companies to the market. With Lilac Solutions, we support progress in the field of lithium extraction by emphasizing responsible and sustainable methods.”

The Lilac Solutions method proved itself during the first field trials and the team will now adapt the process for medium-term industrialization. Of course, BMW is already investing in solid-state battery technology alongside automotive giant Ford as well. With its eggs in several baskets, we can’t wait to see what BMW develops in the near future.



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