BMW announced on October 6 that its VC arm BMW i Ventures has joined a group of strategic investors in the US$150 million Series B funding round for startup Lilac Solutions. The other investors that participated in the funding round include SK Materials, Presidio Ventures (a subsidiary of Sumitomo), MCJ Collective, and Earthshot Ventures. Based in the US, Lilac owns a proprietary technology for the extraction of lithium from brine ponds. BMW believes that its capital injection will lead to further progress in the lithium mining sector.
According to BMW i Ventures and the reporting by other news websites, Lilac has a patented ion exchange process where a special module is used to directly harvest lithium out of the flowing brine. The current process requires the evaporation of the brine so as to collect and further treat the leftover solid materials in order to obtain lithium. Hence, Lilac’s technology is a significant improvement in terms of efficiency, cost, and sustainability.
BMW i Ventures in its press release said that compared with other existing methods, Lilac’s process is ~10,000 times faster and works on sources of brine that are currently considered too low-grade to extract lithium. Also, since Lilac’s process does not require an evaporator or an evaporation pond, it has much less impact on the environment with respect to CO2 emissions and contamination of water supply. As the demand for lithium batteries grows rapidly in the EV market, BMW believes that Lilac’s process could become mainstream in the near future.
BMW emphasizes that this investment is to create a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable method for mining lithium. Wolfgang Obermaier, senior VP of Indirect Goods and Services, Raw Materials, and Production Partners at the BMW Group, said that technological advances will lead to more efficient and eco-friendly ways of obtaining raw materials. Therefore, BMW is investing in startups to expedite the introductions of new technologies, encourage competition, and help new solution providers enter the market.
BMW now aims to have BEVs account for at least 50% of its worldwide vehicle sales by 2030, so its demand for lithium and other key materials for battery production will grow exponentially in the coming years. Moreover, the BMW Group buys directly from raw material suppliers so that its battery supply chain is transparent in terms of the origins of materials. In China, BMW expects to compete head-to-head with Tesla. Nikkei reported this June that BMW will be adding 360,000 charging points across the country. The carmaker has also been manufacturing its electric SUV BMW iX3 at a joint-venture plant in Shenyang.