Introduction: A License to Print Money
“[There are] software-like margins to be made in lithium processing,” explains Elon Musk, “I’d like to once again urge entrepreneurs to enter the lithium refining business. The mining is relatively easy, the refining is much harder [but] you can’t lose, it’s a license to print money.”
The tech giant has been increasingly vocal on the benefits of lithium mining and processing as global supply chains fight to accommodate the rising demand for the element dubbed ‘white gold’. A critical component of electric vehicle batteries, lithium batteries are also carving out a niche within grid-scale renewable energy projects. This makes lithium an incredibly prized commodity for global governments seeking to replace their polluting transport and energy sectors with low-carbon options.
Simply put, there is no transition without lithium, and businesses within the sector are set to jockey for emerging markets while finding innovative ways of remedying some of the challenges in lithium extraction. Luckily, EnergyX is well ahead of the curve.
The Road to Building EnergyX
In 2017, Teague Egan, a serial entrepreneur interested in critical low-carbon technologies and sustainable development traveled to Bolivia, visiting the world’s largest lithium salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni. Looking over the landscape, he remembered the role that lithium had in EV batteries, before realizing that the current trend in global politics was going to push for more EVs flooding the market. In an interview with the New York Times, Egan recalls thinking “I need to be involved.” He thoroughly researched the lithium industry from extraction to processing, making note of the issues already acknowledged by the sector, and identifying gaps that could form if demand skyrocketed as he expected.
Egan identified sustainability and extraction efficiency as the core issues that would limit lithium extraction, creating a potential bottleneck in supply. He set out to find a solution that could fix both challenges, and improve the supply chain as a whole. This led him to the University of Texas at Austin, where Dr Benny Freedman was working on new technology that could be applied to lithium extraction. They formed a partnership, subsequently creating EnergyX in 2018. Every day since then, Teague Egan, our founder and CEO, has dedicated to growing the company and developing the most sustainable technology capable of meeting global lithium demands without further damaging the planet.
Developing Sustainable Solutions
Over the next four years, Egan has helped lead the company to new heights, evident in a growing portfolio of technologies, a continually increasing team of scientists and engineers, and series of breakthroughs. Our flagship technology, LiTAS™, has been deployed at the Salar de Uyuni since 2022 and has achieved a 94% lithium retrieval rate across hundreds of samples from local brines. The technology uses little water, no chemicals, and yields lithium in days. Current brine extraction best practice sees 30% of lithium retrieved over the course of several months using thousands of liters of water and heavy chemicals.
EnergyX has cracked the code to efficient, sustainable lithium extraction – and now, with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and global governments seeking to secure large quantities of lithium, EnergyX has become the world’s leading Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE) company. From an initial $20 million investment from equity crowdfunding and venture capitalists in 2021, the company has secured a $450 million investment from Global Emerging Markets in 2022 ahead of its second investment round.
Conclusion: Outlook of the Lithium Industry
The lithium industry is booming. As noted in the EnergyX market mid-year recap, demand for lithium-ion batteries powering electric mobility and renewable energy is pushing current extraction operations to the limit. In addition to this, experts are warning of a lithium supply collapse by 2026 if extraction and processing sectors are not expanded fast enough. Bloomberg’s Annie Lee points out that “The consequences of failure to produce enough lithium are potentially devastating. If battery makers can’t get enough lithium, it would curb the expansion of clean-energy vehicles, making it harder to meet global emissions targets.”
The large investments that were poured into the EV and battery materials sectors in 2021 ($271 billion and $7.9 billion, respectively) need to be increased through 2022 and beyond in order to meet the net-zero goals that global governments are working towards. In addition to this, new technologies like DLE must be implemented rapidly into global supply chains in order to reduce the bottleneck in supply that has been forecast. EnergyX is now uniquely positioned to meet the needs of not just the lithium industry, but also global demand for sustainable solutions. This has all been achieved thanks to Teague Egan’s vision and leadership.