Albemarle jumps into global race to reinvent lithium production

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) – Albemarle is building an Arkansas facility to test its version of direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology with the goal of eventually filtering the electric vehicle battery metal from existing bromine operations, its CEO said on Thursday.

Already the world’s largest lithium producer, a successful move into the DLE sector would likely cement Albemarle’s dominance in the fast-growing industry amid the push to electrify the global economy.

DLE technologies vary, but they each aim to roughly double lithium extraction rates from brine deposits compared to traditional evaporation ponds. No DLE technology has reached commercial production without the use of those ponds, though, sparking a global race to be the first.

CEO Kent Masters said that Albemarle has developed its own DLE process and plans to test it in Arkansas, where for years it has extracted bromine, a chemical used to make flame retardants, from a geological formation known as the Smackover.

“It is a new technology and we’re going to make sure that we do it right,” Masters told investors on a conference call after the company posted better-than-expected quarterly profit.

“We have access to the brine and access to the infrastructure. We’re well positioned to take advantage of that.”

If the tests are successful, the company could essentially bolt on DLE equipment to its bromine operations. The company did not provide a timeline for construction or deployment.

Reuters reported in June that Chevron, Exxon Mobil and others are investigating DLE technologies.

Automakers ranging from General Motors to Stellantis to Ford have made aggressive bets on the DLE space. Chile’s president in April announced a plan to gradually require DLE in his country, which has the world’s largest reserves of the battery metal.

Tetra Technologies and Standard Lithium are also aiming to produce lithium in the Smackover.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Nick Zieminski)