BMW makes niche investment in green lithium startup

20 May 2022


BMW’s investment arm has led a series A-1 financing round in Mangrove Lithium, a startup, which develops ‘green’ lithium-refining technology. BMW i Ventures was joined by existing investor Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Financial details were not disclosed, but Mangrove Lithium said that total funds raised by its team amount to $25 million (€24 million).

The startup will use the funds to launch a commercial-scale plant, which will rely on its patent-pending technology to refine lithium from a variety of sources. The site will help improve lithium-refining operations, with the aim to lower the environmental impact.

BMW said Mangrove’s technology is the greenest and lowest-energy solution available on the market. The startup claims to have developed a ‘breakthrough platform’ for cost-effective production of battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate. The technology allows lithium from brines, hard rock, clay, geothermal direct-lithium extraction, and recycled batteries to be processed more efficiently.

Lithium supply chain

Lithium, the lightest of all metals, is used in electric-vehicle (EV) batteries, but the raw material has been exposed to supply-chain risks because its production and processing are geographically concentrated. Mangrove wants to help remove that bottleneck, especially as demand for lithium-hydroxide and lithium-carbonate continues to rise.

The lithium-processing startup says its electrochemical process can improve yields and eliminate the need for a carbonate plant. This saves time and cuts operating costs, a key selling point given carmakers are increasing EV production.

Prices of raw materials are on the rise and in the face of supply uncertainty, car manufacturers are looking to minimise EV-battery supply-chain risks as these dampen car manufacturers’ electrification plans and constrain market growth.

‘We are seeing an increasing need for these types of technologies as lithium demand increases, and accessibility to green solutions remains limited today,’ said Kasper Sage, managing partner at BMW i Ventures. ‘Mangrove’s core technology offers the opportunity to fundamentally improve the supply chain of lithium production, unlocking new lithium supply in a more environmentally-friendly way.’

Green lithium

Vancouver-based Mangrove Lithium recently grabbed headlines when Bill Gates’ investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures invested $10 million in the startup. Its technology is focused on the chemical processing of lithium and allows for a more diverse allocation of refining capacities worldwide.

‘Our vision is to make green lithium refining a reality,’ said Saad Dara, CEO of Mangrove Lithium. ‘Our modular approach enables us to adapt production capacity in a flexible way. By eliminating an entire conversion step in the process, we save cost and energy, making projects feasible that otherwise would not be financially viable.’

The company says its modular solution can be scaled to any capacity, either at point of extraction or at the point of manufacturing or recycling. It can also be co-located with lithium producers or cathode and cell manufacturers.

The startup highlights its technology is different from others as it can produce high-purity lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate from a range of feedstocks at low-energy consumption and high recovery rates. The company seeks to offer more sustainable options regarding the adoption of lithium-ion batteries. Mangrove’s technology also creates less waste product in the conversion process compared to existing refiners.