(Bloomberg) -- Exxon Mobil Corp. is in talks with Tesla Inc., Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and other automakers about supplying them with lithium as the oil giant works to build a business around the crucial battery metal, according to people familiar with the matter.
Exxon is one of several oil and gas companies seeking to expand into lithium production to take advantage of surging demand for use in electric-vehicle batteries, and as a way of diversifying beyond fossil fuels. The talks with potential customers are still early stage, and the company has yet to lay out its plans for potential lithium operations. However, the discussions are the latest sign of Exxon’s growing interest in the lithium business.
The company has also had conversations with battery giants Samsung and SK On Co., the people said, asking not to be named because the information is private. Exxon, SK On and Volkswagen declined to comment. Tesla, Ford and Samsung didn’t reply to messages seeking comment.
The rapid global roll out of electric vehicles has raised the risk of bottlenecks and shortages for key battery materials like lithium, sparking a rush to invest in and secure supply. The world will need nearly 60 new lithium mines and plants to feed the growing demand for the shift away from fossil fuels, according to researcher Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, and more lithium will be required in 2030 than was mined between 2015 and 2022.
Chevron Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. and SLB, the world’s biggest oil-services provider, have all said they’re considering or actively exploring opportunities in the metal. And the automakers themselves have also been putting down money — General Motors earlier this year announced a $650 million investment in a lithium developer.
Exxon, which has set a goal of extracting 100,000 tons of lithium per year, is exploring a 10-acre site in Arkansas and recently began drilling wells there, but has yet to decide if it wants to produce it on its own or partner with others, according to one of the people.
Albemarle Corp. is among the lithium producers Exxon is talks with, the people said. The chemicals company said in a statement that, “given Albemarle’s leadership role in the market, people routinely want to speak with us — especially when looking at potential resources.”
Shares of Albemarle jumped as much as 3.7% after Bloomberg reported the news, the biggest intraday gain in more than 3 weeks, before paring some gains. Shares of Exxon were up 3% after jumping at the market open.
Exxon has touted the “natural synergy” between lithium extraction and the company’s expertise in producing oil and gas. The firm has said it’s exploring extracting lithium from underground saltwater in a process that would be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than traditional mining.
Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said during the company’s earnings conference call with analysts last week that processing “brine and extracting the lithium is very consistent with a lot of the things that we do in our refineries and chemical plants and, in fact, in some of our upstream operations.”
--With assistance from David Wethe and Gabrielle Coppola.
(Updates with context throughout, share movements in eighth paragraph.)
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