According to a report from Reuters, the two carmakers have launched a study into the environmental impacts and sustainability of lithium mining in Chile's Atacama Desert region.
Lobbying records for the study presented to Cristóbal De La Maza, chief of Chilean environmental regulator SMA, by the marques said the "growing importance of batteries has made the sustainability of lithium a key priority for [Volkswagen and Daimler]".
A Chilean environmental court claimed in December 2019 there is a “high level of scientific uncertainty” regarding the integrity of the Atacama salt flat's ecosystem.
The salt flat is the largest source of the material in the South American ‘lithium triangle’. However, concerns have been raised over the mining technique used to extract the substance and its long-term effects on the delicate ecosystem.
Lithium is mined from pools of brine sitting beneath the surface of the Atacama – unlike the mining techniques used by the world’s largest lithium producer, Australia, where the soft metal is extracted from hard rock.
Volkswagen and Daimler's initiative follows in the footsteps of fellow German carmaker BMW, which announced earlier this year it had joined the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) – becoming the first carmaker to do so in the process.
With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EV) and impending European Union emissions reform, lithium is a valuable commodity to carmakers for its use in EV batteries, and demand only looks set to increase as global demand for EVs grows.
Volkswagen alone has invested $135 billion into its plan for mass production of zero-emission vehicles.
Reuters was able to confirm Volkswagen’s involvement in the study, Daimler has withheld comment.