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BMW invests big in clean lithium extraction in South America

The automaker is investing $334 million in environmentally friendly and socially responsible lithium extraction techniques in Argentina.

BMW's iX will feature batteries made from responsibly extracted materials.

The extraction of natural resources for batteries can be a dirty business, whether it's the environmental impact of open-pit mines for nickel and cobalt in Cuba or the health problems caused by mining runoff getting into the groundwater in Australia.

BMW is trying to get around this by directly purchasing the raw materials for its vehicle batteries and then making those materials available to its battery partners for production. This move for increased transparency got its start in Australia in 2019, and now BMW is taking the approach to Argentina to source lithium. It's starting the process with a significant investment of more than $334 million, according to an announcement made on Tuesday.

Unlike in Australia and other places, lithium extraction in Argentina is typically done by extracting lithium-rich brine from salt lakes and evaporating the water away in large pools. This causes problems in a few ways, chiefly compromising the balance between the brine and groundwater layers. BMW is partnering with a company that's found a different way of doing things, though.

BMW's partner, Livent, has a way of extracting lithium from the brine without evaporation so ultimately less water is lost, which means it can be pumped back into the dry lake from whence it came. Livent's process also keeps chemicals and solvents from finding their way back into the environment.

To help keep things on the up and up, BMW has involved itself with the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance -- an initiative that has come up with guidelines for responsible extraction of raw materials and a strict set of requirements for its members to meet stringent environmental and social standards. BMW the first automaker to do so, and it's pushed Livent to become a member as well.

What does this mean for you, the consumer? Beyond knowing that your EV's batteries and motor components are coming from more socially and environmentally responsible sources, it shouldn't affect you at all. However, it's still important, and we're glad to see BMW pushing in this direction.

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