April 7 (Reuters) – Rio Tinto, General Motors and even the U.S. Energy Department are investing heavily in a crop of newer technologies that could revolutionize the way lithium is produced for electric vehicle batteries. Now those technologies just have to prove they work on a commercial scale.
If they do, miners will be able to boost global lithium production with a footprint far smaller than open-pit mines and evaporation ponds, which often are the size of multiple football fields and unpopular with local communities.
These so-called direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies extract the white metal from brine using filters, membranes, ceramic beads or other equipment that can typically be housed in a small warehouse. But they often use lots of potable water and electricity, and none have worked at commercial scale.
Global automakers, mining companies and investors are pouring millions of dollars into DLE companies, betting they can supply the bulk of the lithium needed to power the electric vehicle revolution.