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The Salton Sea could produce the world’s greenest lithium


Near the California-Mexico Border, 40 miles away lies the Salton Sea. This lake is shrinking and landlocked. It was once the center of a bustling resort community. However, decades of drought and water contamination have resulted in a decline of this lake. collapse of the lake’s once vibrant ecosystemGhost towns have been created.

However, despite this ecological disaster, California Energy Commission has estimated that the country is able to provide enough lithium for all the future American demand. 40% of the entire world’s demand. This is great news for electric car industry. Lithium is the common factor across all types of batteries.

Traditional methods of extracting lithium include open-pit mining and evaporation. These involve pumping lithium-containing brine up to the surface, then waiting for it to dry. Each of these extraction methods has large land footprints but are also very efficient. water-intensiveIt can lead to many other things. contamination and waste.

Three companies have developed chemical processes that extract lithium from the Salton Sea in cleaner ways. They are taking advantage of its rich geothermal resources. There are currently 11 geothermal power stations near the lake. Ten of these are owned by Berkshire HathawayBHE Renewables is the division responsible for renewable energy.

“We’re already pumping 50,000 gallons per minute of brine across our ten geothermal plants to the surface,” stated Alicia Knapp (President and CEO at BHE Renewables). “And we use the steam from that brine for clean energy.” We are halfway to the goal in that we have lithium in our possession.

Berkshire Hathaway Renewables has 10 geothermal power stations in the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area

BHE Renewables

EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources or CTR are two other companies that have also been developing geothermal and lithium facilities for the Salton Sea. General MotorsIt already committed to source lithiumCTR.

It could prove to be an economic boom for the region. The majority Mexican-American population is in high poverty and has low unemployment.

Maria Nava Froelich is temporarily mayor of Calipatria. She said that while the Lithium Valley has excited her, she was cautiously optimistic. “We view it as a game-changer here in the Imperial County.”

Nava Froelich is optimistic that the industry can bring jobs and economic development to the region. It will also help revitalize areas which have witnessed a large exodus from young people looking for work elsewhere. The environmentalists are hopeful that California’s new attention will spur the restoration of the Salton Sea environment.

There might have been a better time than now to invest in domestic mineral projects. The end of March President Biden invoked the Defense Production ActTo boost the production of EV-battery minerals, such as nickel, cobalt and graphite, 

However, extracting lithium from the geothermal brines is something that has not been attempted before. It remains to be seen what the benefits will bring the electric car industry, local communities, and the planet.

Lithium valley

The Salton Sea has seen interest in lithium extraction for many years. Simbol Materials, a Hyped Start-up, previously built a demonstration facility. However the company closed its doors in 2015. failed acquisition attempt by Tesla,It has never been commercially developed.

The demand for lithium has increased dramatically since then. After falling steeply in 2018, the prices have risen once more, encouraging companies to undertake projects they might not otherwise be able to afford. The current three companies have the potential to earn a lot from the many thousands of tonnes of lithium available.

Salton Sea could provide a wealth of benefits if it is fully developed. 600,000 tons a yearIf the global production falls below 400 [thousand]Rod Colwell CEO, CTR, stated, “Now.”

CTR, unlike EnergySource and Berkshire Hathaway, doesn’t own any regional geothermal power stations. It is therefore building an integrated lithium-geothermal facility. Currently the company is building a demonstration facility and will open the first fully-scale facility in 2024. It will provide 20,000 tonnes of lithium for GM.

Colwell predicts that CTR will build its first plant for just under $1 billion. This is a higher price per ton than traditional lithium recovery programs. All three companies believe that this price will fall as technology advances further.

CTR uses ion exchange technology to extract lithium. It was developed with Bay Area-based partners. Lilac Solutions. Geothermal brine is pumped through ceramic beads-filled tanks that absorb lithium. The beads absorb the lithium from the brine and are then flushed with hydrochloric acids. CTR will refine this intermediary product onsite. It yields lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. This powder can then be transformed into precursor chemicals, and finally made into batteries. 

Berkshire Hathaway is also using ion-exchange technology, though the company hasn’t revealed as many specifics as CTR about how it will work.

EnergySource developed the technology that is known as Integrated Lithium Adsorption DesorptionILiAD (or ILiAD) is now building a fully-scale facility and expects it to be up and running by 2024.

“What we can see is that geothermal salt should not be below the first quartile for market competability in terms production costs,” explained Derek Benson (CEO of EnergySource).

All three companies intend to refining lithium on-site, which is a step that usually takes place in Asia. But the companies aren’t equipped to handle additional steps, such as chemical processing and battery cell manufacturing, which still primarily take place in Asia. 

“The rest of the supply chain, hopefully in the coming years will also be developed in the US,” said Knapp, “so that we’re able to go straight from lithium and other minerals in the ground to batteries that we’re using to run our infrastructure.” 

Maker of EV batteries Italvolt recently announced plans toStatevolt is a company that plans to create a $4Billion Gigafactory located in Imperial Valley. It will produce sufficient lithium ion battery capacity for 650,000 electric cars per year. Statevolt has signed a letter of intent to obtain lithium and geothermal energy from CTR. However, it did not answer CNBC’s question about chemical processing on-site.

Participation in the community 

This new industry may have major implications for the Imperial Valley community. Many low-income residents are involved in agriculture and this could be a significant impact. unemployment rate is 12%This is more than three times higher than the national average. 

California established the Lithium Valley Commission in order to bring together government, community and industry stakeholders and help them analyze potential lithium recovery opportunities. 

Luis Olmedo, a member representing low-income and disadvantaged communities within the Salton Sea geothermal resource region is also a member. 

“It’s going to be really important that the community is involved and engaged, because if the community isn’t there, the vision is going to be drawn out for them”, Olmedo said. “We know that these are prime target areas where communities will be taken advantage of. We know that.”

CTR and Berkshire Hathaway also have representatives at the Lithium Valley Commission. They stress the positive effects that the growing industry will have, from increased property taxes that can benefit local schools, funding additional services and job creation. 

This community needs us,” Knapp said. “And this is a fantastic place for us to invest and benefit not just ourselves as a company, but benefit all of us in the market, as lithium is so essential to our daily lives. And these people right here in this community by providing jobs, education, opportunities, just all the economic development that comes with that big of an investment.” 

Knapp says that they’re working with a number of educational institutions in the area, from high schools to community colleges to four year institutions, to make sure that students interested in getting a job in the geothermal and lithium industries are properly trained.  

“You know, we’re about 90% trades, right? So we’re not looking for a bunch of PhDs here,” said Colwell.

Olmedo and Nava-Froelich say they’re encouraged by the conversations that are happening, but they’ve been disappointed by big talk before. 

“We are a little cautious because we don’t want to get our hopes up high,” Nava-Froelich said, “All this talk, is it really happening or are they just kind of talking about it and they may pull out and go somewhere else? It’s almost too good to be true.”

This is also a chance for environmentalists to create momentum towards habitat restoration at Salton Sea. California is working to solve the problem since years. But advocates want the state. expedite projectsIt involves creating low-salinity ponds in the lakebed that allow fish and birds species to flourish. And with the state’s budget surplus, things are finally moving. 

“They need a longer term vision and a pipeline for additional projects moving forward. So there’s a lot more that needs to be done, but we’re starting to see some things happen,” said Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute, a research institute focused on water conservation. ”So we’re seeing more progress than we’ve seen ever, really.” 

Mining projects are facing a number of challenges. community concern and backlashIt seems that lithium recovery is happening in the Salton Sea, but it’s possible elsewhere. could to be the rare mineral project that brings together all stakeholders. If it’s possible to make this work. 

You can watch the video to find out more about the Salton Sea’s lithium extraction and see the plants constructed and operated by EnergySource and BHE Renewables.