Oxy, Berkshire Tie Up for Lithium

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Oil and gas producer Occidental Petroleum announced a joint venture with a Berkshire Hathaway business to extract high-purity lithium from geothermal energy sites in California.

The companies – the latter is BHE Renewables – said their venture aims to prove the viability of a more sustainable method of extracting lithium while becoming a significant source of the chemical.

The technology, direct lithium extraction, is owned by Occidental subsidiary TerraLithium. It uses sorbents to capture trace lithium in salty brines created by geothermal energy plants. Once the sorbents or loaded they are removed from the brine and separated from the lithium using highly concentrated lithium chloride. According to Occidental, the method is very efficient and uses significantly less energy than conventional technologies and therefore has a lower carbon footprint.

Des Moines, Iowa-based BHE Renewables is part of Berkshire Hathaway Energy and owns solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric energy facilities, including 10 geothermal facilities in California’s Imperial Valley. The joint venture has started a project at one facility to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of the TerraLithium technology.

If successful, the joint venture will then introduce the technology to the other nine sites, making itself a producer of lithium hydroxide, while also licensing it to other producers.

Lithium demand is skyrocketing due to the ramp-up of sales of electric vehicles, most of which run on lithium-ion batteries. That demand has tightened availability, driving up costs for other lithium applications, including thickening agents in automotive and industrial greases. Occidental and BHE cited forecasts that global lithium demand could grow ten-fold during this decade.

As a result, businesses and governments are scrambling to develop new sources of the chemical.

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