Eyeing a future of waning oil demand and rising sales of electric cars, Exxon Mobil is set to begin mining lithium, a key ingredient in EV batteries.
Exxon has bought drilling rights for a 120,000-acre swath of southern Arkansas that is estimated to contain enough lithium to supply 50 million electric vehicles, The Wall Street Journal reports. The $100 million investment, small for a company of Exxon’s size, does not signal a major strategy shift, but it does reflect a rapidly changing market in which EVs increasingly displace gas-powered cars.
In its latest energy outlook, Exxon projects that fuel demand from light-duty vehicles will peak around 2025 and that, by 2050, EVs will account for more than half of all new car sales.
Oil majors are bracing for the shift. Some, like BP and Shell, are betting on renewable energy. Others are focusing on extraction. Occidental Petroleum is investing in technology for drawing up underground lithium, and Exxon could begin mining lithium in the next few months, the Journal reports.
The new venture comes a half-century after Exxon chemist Stanley Whittingham helped develop the lithium-ion battery, an invention for which he later won the Nobel Prize. Exxon began manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in 1976 but stopped a few years later owing to meager demand.