Exxon evaluates lithium extracted from fracking wastewater

Image by Harry Green | Adobe Stock.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is experimenting with the extraction of lithium from wastewater produced in the fracking process as the largest US oil company explores ways it can enter the market for the battery metal.

While its lithium activities are at an early stage, production of the metal at scale would be a big business even for a company of Exxon’s size. The metal is crucial component in electric vehicle batteries and long-term projections point to a looming global supply deficit.

Lithium has traditionally been produced from hard rock mines in Australia and salty water in South America, but the bullish demand outlook has spurred various attempts to extract it from unconventional resources such as oil field and geothermal brines. Exxon is looking at how to utilize its expertise in fracking of oil and gas from shale rock, which involves the use of large volumes of water.

“One of the advantages of lithium from subsurface brines is it’s a lot less energy-intensive and emissions-intensive than, say, the hard rock mining that is common today,” Matt Crocker, senior vice president for Exxon’s low carbon solutions business, said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s actually got some pretty good ESG benefits associated with it.”

Exxon has been in talks with automakers including Tesla Inc. about supplying them with lithium, people familiar with the matter said in July. The company has also purchased drilling rights in parts of Arkansas with a view to producing lithium, the Wall Street Journal reported in May.

(By Mitchell Ferman)


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