Geothermal energy

Occidental Launches Joint Venture for Lithium Brine Extraction

Occidental Petroleum is teaming up with its largest shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway, to commercialize lithium extraction in California.

Lithium Valley sunset
A geothermal plant in California's Salton Sea.
Source: Getty Images.

Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) announced this week that it has formed a joint venture with the energy arm of Berkshire Hathaway to commercialize direct lithium extraction (DLE) using geothermal waste brine as a feedstock.

The Houston-based oil and gas company has been running a demonstration test since at least last year at one of Berkshire’s geothermal plants in California’s Salton Sea.

The conglomerate led by famed investor Warren Buffet owns 10 such plants in the area that produce 345 MW of electricity while generating a combined 50,000 gal/min of lithium brine. Berkshire is Oxy’s single largest shareholder, owning nearly 28% of the company’s stock.

At the center of the joint venture is the DLE technology developed by Oxy’s subsidiary TerraLithium.

Formed in 2019, TerraLithium uses adsorbents and other chemically modified approaches to capture trace amounts of battery-grade lithium from brine solution. TerraLithium reports its process has a demonstrated capture efficiency rate exceeding 99%.

Berkshire said if the demonstration test is successful it will build, own, and operate more DLE facilities in California. The joint venture also intends to license the DLE technology for use in other regions.

Oxy’s new partnership comes after ExxonMobil and Equinor have also made significant investments in the emerging North American lithium brine business.

Last month, Equinor announced a deal with Standard Lithium that may see it invest up to $130 million in lithium projects in Texas. ExxonMobil shared plans in November to start drilling lithium brine wells in Arkansas with commercial production expected by 2027.