Exxon hedges its big oil bet by investing in lithium, a key ingredient of the EV future

Thursday, November 16, 2023 by Snacks
Who knew lithium ponds were so ’Grammable? (Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images)

Who knew lithium ponds were so ’Grammable? (Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images)

Power move… Exxon is expanding its non-oil investments to mining the metal used in electric-vehicle batteries: lithium. The energy giant aims to start mining lithium in Arkansas in 2027, and plans to become one of the world’s top producers by ramping up production to ~100K tons by 2030. Though Exxon is known for fossil fuels, fun fact: Exxon scientists invented the lithium-ion battery (now used in EVs) in the ’70s, but stopped making batteries shortly after. The oil co’s return to the biz may be surprising after recent events:

  • Exxon recently bought oil producer Pioneer Natural Resources for $60B. Experts saw it as a sign that energy titans (including Chevron, which recently bought rival Hess for $53B) are betting on a fossil-fuel-filled future (say that 5x fast).

Two futures… The International Energy Agency predicts that lithium usage will 40x from 2020 to 2040 as drivers shift from gas-powered → electric. The Biden admin’s also bullish on an e-future: yesterday it announced a $3.5B fund for manufacturing lithium and other advanced batteries. But carmakers like GM and Ford have reined in ambitious EV production goals, citing consumer demand that isn’t accelerating fast enough. Lithium prices have slumped from record highs in 2022 (when many were snapping up the metal), but producers say the market wobbles are just “road bumps.”


It’s the “why not both?” approach... Exxon’s version of wanting both hard- and soft-shelled tacos is betting on oil- and electric-powered futures. Its lithium bet could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Exxon’s US-mined lithium will likely be cheaper than the int’l imports the industry currently relies on (Exxon plans to use a new, faster mining method). That could make EVs cheaper for price-conscious buyers. Exxon said lithium demand is expected to 4x by 2030.

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