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Compass Minerals in talks with Ford, LG Energy to supply lithium products

By Tim Vandenack - | Aug 8, 2022
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The east evaporation ponds of Compass Minerals as seen from above on Oct. 18, 2016. After a three-year evaporation process through various ponds, the company extracts minerals for fertilizer and road salts using brine from the Great Salt Lake's north arm.
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In this undated photo, mineral harvesting ponds used by Compass Minerals cover the northeast corner of the Great Salt Lake. Multiple companies pump the mineral-rich water of the lake into shallow ponds and collect the byproduct after the water has evaporated.
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Employees at Compass Minerals, formerly Great Salt Lake Minerals Corp., harvest sulfate of potash along the Great Salt Lake near Ogden on Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013. Sulfate of potash is used in fertilizer and is derived from the water of the Great Salt Lake.
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Great Salt Lake Collaborative

Editor's note: This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake -- and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

Compass Minerals is in talks with Ford Motor Co. and LG Energy Solution to supply the manufacturing giants with a key ingredient needed in the growing market for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, tapping the Great Salt Lake.

The Overland Park, Kansas-based business through its Weber County operation at the far western end of the county has identified around 2.4 million metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent in the Great Salt Lake. It hopes to tap it to supply lithium carbonate and/or lithium hydroxide to aid the electric vehicle industry and the "quickly expanding" stationary battery market, the firm said in response to a series of queries from the Standard-Examiner.

More specifically, Compass Minerals has nonbinding memorandums of understanding with U.S.-based Ford and LG Energy Solution of South Korea to potentially supply the firms with the lithium products starting in 2025. Compass Minerals' Weber County facility has more traditionally been know for its production of fertilizers tapping the minerals of the Great Salt Lake.

"A number of U.S. battery manufacturers and end-users such as automakers have expressed a preference for domestically sourced lithium, produced with a minimal environmental impact. We believe our lithium resource meets both of those criteria," Compass Minerals said. The "sustainable and readily available lithium resource" in the Great Salt Lake operation, the statement went on, "could be a true differentiator for our company."

Chris Yandell, head of lithium for Compass Minerals, lauded the potential association with Ford. "Ford is a brand long associated with innovation and we are excited about the potential of helping fuel their growth as a leading domestic electric vehicle manufacturer," he said in a statement.

In its own statement late last month, Ford touted the deal with Compass Minerals as one of several with a number of firms aimed at bolstering production of electric vehicles -- EVs in industry parlance -- to 600,000 by late 2023 and 2 million by the end of 2026.

"Ford's new electric vehicle lineup has generated huge enthusiasm and demand, and now we are putting the industrial system in place to scale quickly," Jim Farley, Ford's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. Ford's electric vehicle division -- called the "Model e" team -- "has moved with speed, focus and creativity to secure the battery capacity and raw materials we need to deliver breakthrough EVs for millions of customers."

LG Energy Solution said the potential partnership with Compass Minerals comes as the South Korean firm "looks to solidify its supply chain in the U.S. and cater to the growing market demand for EVs in North America." LG Energy Solution is a global supplier of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars and more.

The deals with LG Energy Solution and Ford are tentative at this stage and Compass Minerals officials are hoping to hammer out binding accords. "We welcome discussions with other potential customers," Compass Minerals said.

In all, Compass Minerals anticipates eventually being able to produce 30,000 to 40,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent per year, with an initial capacity of 10,000 metric tons by 2025, when it plans to start production.

News of the deals comes amid heightened attention to the Great Salt Lake as its water level dips and declines. Compass Minerals, the firm said, expects to tap the lithium products "with nominal incremental impact to the beds and waters of the Great Salt Lake."

The firm uses solar evaporation to harvest sulfate of potash, salt and magnesium chloride from the lake's brine.

The firm pumps lake brine "into large, open ponds where the sun and wind evaporate the water, leaving beds of naturally occurring, crystallized minerals," it said. "By harnessing the power of the sun, the use of carbon-based energy sources is minimized, while also reducing costs and limiting greenhouse gas emissions."


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