BMW iVentures Announces Lead Investment in Mangrove Lithium, a Company Developing ‘Green Lithium' Refining Technology
BMW iVentures, the Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm of automaker BMW that invests in companies developing advanced technologies for the auto industry, announced today a lead investment in the Series A-1 financing round of Mangrove Lithium, a Vancouver BC based company producing battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate for electric vehicle batteries.
The investment by BMW i Ventures was joined by existing investor Breakthrough Energy Ventures. This latest round brings the total funds raised by Mangrove to $25 million USD.
Mangrove Lithium developed a new electrochemical process that eliminates the need for a carbonate plant as a conversion step to further refine lithium. This reduces the operating costs and time associated with first converting the raw material into lithium carbonate, which is used for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) electric vehicle batteries.
The process is a more sustainable and scalable production method of producing lithium to meet growing demand, according to Mangrove. The core technology is also being commercialized for conversion of waste brines left behind from lithium extraction to chemicals and desalinated water.
"Our vision is to make green lithium refining a reality. Our modular approach enables us to adapt production capacity in a flexible way. By eliminating an entire conversion step in the process, we save cost and energy, making projects feasible that otherwise would not be financially viable, says Saad Dara, CEO of Mangrove Lithium.
How Lithium for EV Batteries is Typically Sourced
Most lithium used in lithium-ion batteries is currently mined and processed outside of the U.S., which is a concern for automakers including Tesla that need to secure reliable sources of the raw material.
In South America for example, where some of the world's largest lithium deposits are located, miners drill into the beds of vast salt flats, which are ancient dried up lakes. Deep underneath the ground in the salt layer is a brine that's rich in lithium salts.
To extract the lithium from the brine, which is the world's lightest metal, massive amounts of water are pumped underground forming large pools. The water forces the mineral rich brine containing the lithium to the surface. These large pools of water are then left to evaporate in the sun. The process is similar to how salt is extracted from sea water.
After several months of evaporation in the hot sun, the brine leaves behind a dried mixture containing a mixture of manganese, potassium, borax and lithium, which is then further filtered and placed into a separate evaporation pool.
This process can be repeated for up to two years until the mixture is filtered enough so that the raw lithium carbonate can be extracted. This is the raw material or feedstock that's used in the cathode and the electrolyte of EV batteries during manufacturing.
The standard Lithium extraction process uses approximately 500,000 gallons of water per metric ton of Lithium extracted. However, most lithium brine reserves cannot be cost-effectively turned into battery-grade lithium carbonate and hydroxide.
But Mangrove's technology uses electrochemistry to directly convert brine-fed lithium chloride to high-purity lithium hydroxide.
Mangrove says its process is the best solution for establishing a resilient supply chain. With its mobile plants, Mangrove has the ability to process both chloride and sulfate feedstocks, and output battery grade lithium carbonate or hydroxide. This differentiates from other technologies due to its ability to produce high purity lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate using low energy consumption and yielding high recovery rates.
"There is a substantial need for technologies that enable more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective lithium production, as lithium is a key component in most battery chemistries relevant for EVs," says BMW iVentures Managing Partner Kasper Sage. "Mangrove's core technology offers the opportunity to fundamentally improve the supply chain of lithium production, unlocking new lithium supply in a more environmentally-friendly way."
Mangrove says its technology is the lowest-energy and greenest solution on the market for refining lithium. The company's solution can also be scaled to any capacity, which includes the point of extraction or during manufacturing or recycling. This method of electrochemical lithium processing can be co-located with upstream lithium producers or with cathode and battery cell manufacturers.
The company says that sites with renewable energy sources could nearly eliminate their carbon footprint with its process, as well as eliminate most of the harmful chemical reagents that are used in lithium refining.
"We are seeing an increasing need for these types of technologies as lithium demand increases, and accessibility to green solutions remains limited today," said Kasper Sage, Managing Partner at BMW i Ventures.
Many industry analysts refer to lithium as the "new oil", as the auto industry begins its transition to fully-electric cars. Automakers are pursuing supply deals to ensure they have a steady supply of raw materials such as lithium to manufacture millions of electric vehicle batteries.
The new investment will be used to further accelerate the launch of Mangrove's first commercial plant.
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