BMW announced that its venture capital fund, BMW i Ventures, is investing in Lilac Solutions, a U.S. startup that has developed an innovative process to harvest lithium. Through this investment, the automaker hopes to eventually make the production of its EVs greener.
Lilac Solutions has patented an ion exchange technology that seeks to improve the efficiency, lower the costs, and encourage the sustainability of extracting lithium from brine resources, which form as natural deposits of saltwater.
“By investing in Lilac Solutions, we are supporting technological progress in the field of lithium extraction, with a focus on responsible and sustainable methods,” said Wolfgang Obermaier, senior VP of Indirect Goods and Services, Raw Materials, Production Partners for the BMW Group.
The method makes extracting lithium from brine more cost-effective, and since all brine extracted lithium is less environmentally taxing than mining, there’s a natural benefit to the planet. Per a 2020 BBC report, hard rock lithium mining releases 15,000 kg of CO2 per metric ton of lithium extracted. Taking it from underground brine reservoirs, meanwhile, releases only a third as much.
BMW says that the technology has been proven in the field in initial pilot programs, but that it must now be demonstrated to work at scale. If it can be proven feasible at one location, the process can then be used at brine deposits around the world.
“Innovative technologies provide better, more sustainable, and more efficient access to raw materials,” said Obermaier. “By investing in startups, we are speeding up development of new technologies, stimulating competition and providing impetus that will make it easier for young companies to access the market.”