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Study shows Salton Sea could meet nation's lithium demand for decades

COACHELLA – A federal analysis released Tuesday, Nov. 28 confirmed Southern California's Salton Sea contains enough lithium to meet the nation's needs for decades.

Salton Sea in Riverside's Coachella Valley has the potential to produce an estimated 375 million lithium batteries for electric vehicles – more than the total number of vehicles currently on U.S. roads, according to a recently released Department of Energy analysis.

The numbers on the Salton Sea potential lithium deposit dwarf the estimated lithium deposits available in Nevada's Thacker Pass, the largest known source of lithium in the nation.

The analysis was conducted at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory quantifying the domestic lithium resources in the Salton Sea region.

The analysis showed If the Salton Sea lithium can be extracted, it could give the U.S. the ability to produce domestically sourced lithium, ending the nation's dependence on rival countries for a supply of the metal like China and Taiwan.

"Lithium is vital to decarbonizing the economy and meeting President Biden's goals of 50% electric vehicle adoption by 2030," said Jeff Marootian, DOE secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. "This report confirms the once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a domestic lithium industry at home while also expanding clean, flexible electricity generation."

But that opportunity hinges on whether emerging technologies can make extracting lithium from brine cost-effective on a commercial scale.

Generating electricity from the Salton Sea, a geothermal area, will require extracting hot brine from underground aquifers to produce steam that drives turbines. Brine used for geothermal energy is rich in lithium that can theoretically be extracted in a more environmentally friendly closed system.

The Salton Sea, according to reports, is believed to have the highest concentration of lithium, contained in geothermal brines, in the world. Some environmentalists say the geothermal lithium extractions may minimize the environmental impact of conventional lithium mining practices, like open-pit mining or evaporation ponds.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources are working on plans to extract lithium from the Salton Sea's rich geothermal resources.

However, the DOE warns that those plans are based on those existing companies' ability to access the entire Salton Sea geothermal reservoir for electricity production, and to extract lithium resources from the geothermal brines.

The federal government invested $11 million in brine lithium extraction to develop and accelerate technologies for extracting and converting battery-grade lithium from geothermal brines and has become one of President Biden's goals.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently established a lithium extraction tax of up to $800 a ton. While some residents closest to the geothermal plants reported to the DOE they believed a combined lithium extraction and geothermal energy production facility would have a positive impact on their communities. However, other nearby communities expressed concern about the resulting air quality.

The Salton Sea lithium extraction internet post first appeared in the Nevada Current by author Jeniffer Solis.


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