ExxonMobil have laid out plans to move into lithium production with a new site in Arkansas, USA planned for 2027. The company aims to produce enough lithium to supply over 1 million BEVs / year by 2030. They even claim that thousands of depleted oil wells could eventually be adapted and reused to produce lithium, using breakthrough DLE methods. This also coincides with their affiliated company, Imperial Oil investing in a lithium-extraction pilot project in Canada.
This is certainly an interesting development. Exxon are still fundamentally a fossil fuel supermajor and not many had anticipated them to take their place in the battery arms race, so it's encouraging to see there is appetite for more energy transition projects.
In principal, I am cautiously optimistic about the news. The more diversification within our battery supply chain the better and a giant like Exxon getting on board is welcome. I've recruited for the company in the past and as much as there is a lot to disagree with, I also saw first hand their engineering and commercial excellence when it came to multibillion-dollar mega projects. If they can transfer this expertise from Oil & Gas E&P to lithium production, then it could well be a huge step forward.
But does this announcement signal things could finally be changing at supermajors like Exxon?
I wouldn't hold your breath…
Core fossil-fuel activities show no sign of slowing down. Just last month Exxon announced a $64.5bn merger deal with Pioneer Energy Resources to cement themselves in pole position for the US fracking market. It appeared to be a clear statement that fossil fuels remain at the forefront of their strategy. Even the CEO outlined that “fossil fuels oil and gas are going to continue to play a role over time”. They have also resisted moving into wider electrification areas, like Shell, Eni, BP did (Solar, EV Charging etc). It isn't just Exxon, we also saw Chevron making a $53bn acquisition of Hess too recently!
The reality is that the majority of these supermajors are still betting on fossil fuels in the main, as much as they lay claim to a shifting focus towards “low carbon activities". They will point to the investment going into Carbon Capture but if we're being honest, this is a mitigation technology that still supports more fossil-fuel growth!
Rather than a major change of direction, I see this as more of an opportunistic bet from Exxon. They've seen an opportunity to get into the lithium market at an advantageous time - lithium prices have been steadily falling but demand is expected to surge over the next 10-15 years, so there could well be a great long-term ROI.
Nevertheless, if they can really achieve their aims, then it's welcome news for a battery supply chain that has been under a lot of strain recently. My big question is, will other fossil fuel giants follow Exxon's lead?
As Associate Partner - Energy Storage at Hyperion, I partner with clients along the battery value chain, helping them to hire top C-level and senior talent to help them achieve their core milestones. If you're looking to make your next leadership hire or you're looking for your own next senior / executive challenge, then get in touch at email@example.com