ExxonMobil employees Tim Wright Public and Government Affairs Advisor, Remi Loiseau Lithium Area Manager and Inna Hopkins Socioeconomic Advisor spoke at the Magnolia Rotary Club about lithium extraction on Feb. 8.
“At ExxonMobil, we have over 140 years of energy expertise and history. We have over 2,500 PhDs. we have a number of super smart and intelligent colleagues who are working to solve how we can meet the world’s energy demand in a sustainable and reliable manner,” said Wright.
He said that ExxonMobil currently has three core businesses, traditional fuels, chemical refining and low-carbon energy solutions.
“What we’re looking to do in our low carbon solutions business is to advance energy technologies like carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and lithium,” said Wright.
He said that the company’s experience in oil and gas helps them understand and develop new processes for removing and refining the Smackover Formation brine.
“For us at ExxonMobil, lithium is not something new to us. It is something that is in our company’s DNA. Dr. Stanley Whittingham in the 1970’s was an employee for ExxonMobile and he was working to advance research in the lithium-ion battery. So it’s a really unique tie from where our legacy has been and what we were doing in the 1970s and fast forward to present day,” said Wright.
Loiseau said that the strong oil and gas regulations that are in South Arkansas have helped ExxonMobil to start drilling for lithium at the Smackover Formation.
“You guys are ahead of the game compared to many other states and places within North America. You’ve got a really good foundation that is credited to Arkansas’ focus on this and the history in this industry,” he said.
Loiseau said that ExxonMobil is still in the early stages of testing wells, but that removing lithium from the brine in South Arkansas, similarly to how Albemarle removes bromine and direct lithium extraction, are two newer ways to extract lithium that may be faster and cause less land pollution than the traditional methods.
“Direct lithium extraction is a way to selectively pull those lithium ions out of the water and keep everything moving along. They’re very selective extractions. You don’t want to do small little batches to get a little bit of water and let it sit for long periods of time. Historically lithium comes from two predominant sources, hard rock mining that’s large open pit mining. The other one is salars which are very shallow waters traditionally in South America and China that go into huge evaporation ponds,” he said.
The new ways to extract lithium should reduce the amount of land and time used and pollution created in lithium mining according to Loiseau.
He said that another goal for ExxonMobil in South Arkansas is to work with the communities and provide aid in establishing more infrastructure to support the upcoming growth.
Hopkins said that she is working to assess the socioeconomic needs of the region and how the company can help to meet those needs, as well as the impact that lithium will have on socioeconomic needs.
“We will start collecting information available and using it. Once the study is completed, we will be coming back to the area and talk to community representatives, schools, medical institutions, educational institutions, local businesses and citizens. We will have a conversation with you to hear what the concerns and gaps are and your suggestions. After that, we wrap all the information into a local economic development plan. This plan will cover three main areas, workforce development, supply development and strategic community investment,” she said.
Wright said, “It is important to make sure that we’re doing this in a responsible manner not only safely but also engaging the community through what we call two-way dialogue. We’ve only started our lithium activities here late last year and i feel like we’ve started to make some really good progress on this. When it comes to community at ExxonMobil it is important to be ingrained in the communities where our employees are living and working.”
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