BMW inks $472m deal for more environmentally friendly lithium

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Words: Matthew Hansen
6 Apr 2021

Among the many questions around electric cars and their environmental impacts are concerns around the sourcing of lithium and cobalt. The two materials are often associated with less-than-friendly environmental mining processes, often acting as fuel for the arguments of EV cynics.

BMW has confirmed that it’s tweaking its EV production processes by adding a new lithium supplier. The German firm will now get its supply from a company called Livent, in a deal that will cost US$334m ($472m).

The US-based company sources its lithium from Argentina’s salt lakes, using a proprietary extraction method that does away with the creation of massive ‘evaporation basins’ in the earth. Instead it sources lithium from the brine — a process that minimises the amount of land required for sourcing the material, uses less solvents and chemicals, and results in most of the brine being returned to the land.

BMW will continue to also source lithium from its current supplier, which extracts the material from Australian hard-rock deposits via a series of large open mines. As lithium production becomes more environmentally friendly, one would hope more brands will switch to greener suppliers.

“By sourcing lithium from a second supplier, we are securing requirements for production of our current fifth generation of battery cells,” said Andreas Wendt, head of purchasing and supply at BMW.

“At the same time, we are making ourselves technologically, geographically, and geopolitically less dependent on individual suppliers.”

The news comes months after BMW was crowned the world’s most sustainable car brand in an S&P Dow Jones Indices study. The study noted that the amount of emissions it produced and spent during vehicle production by 40 and 70 per cent respectively since 2006, with CO2 emissions from its products dropping by 42 per cent between 1995 and 2019.

The firm hopes to drop its existing vehicle production CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by the end of the decade, adding that it expects half of its vehicle sales to be electric by the same point.

“The fight against climate change and how we use resources will decide the future of our society – and also of the BMW Group,” BMW AG chairman Oliver Zipse said last November.

“For this reason, we have made sustainability and resource efficiency the centre of our business alignment and anchored this approach in all divisions. We see this as an important building block for successfully shaping our future, since our business model and sustainability are inseparable for us.”

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