The Lithium Valley
Salton Sea geothermal plants have the potential to meet the whole lithium demand in the United States.
There's enough lithium to meet the United States' total projected demand and fuel the electric vehicle revolution in and around the shrinking, toxic Salton Sea. Three companies are working to demonstrate new lithium extraction technologies in the area, and if their tech works at scale, it could produce the greenest lithium that the world has ever seen.
As the demand for lithium for batteries continues to expand, the United States is finding itself increasingly reliant on imports from countries such as China, Russia, Chile, and Argentina to meet its requirements. Given Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the tight linkages between Russia and China, existing lithium supply chains are particularly exposed to geopolitical threats.
Using geothermal resources in the United States, notably in California's Salton Sea, is one method of developing a reliable local lithium supply. The geothermal brine used in the Salton Sea facilities has a dissolved solids content of approximately 30%.
Assuming that the test projects successfully extract lithium from the brines, the 11 existing geothermal plants in the Salton Sea have the potential to supply more than ten times the present lithium demand in the United States. These plants can create around 432 MW of power and 20,000 tons of lithium per year when operating at total capacity.
However, geothermal energy has become a static energy technology in the United States, primarily due to a lack of government funding. Risk mitigation strategies can be highly beneficial to the sector, especially if they can cut drilling costs, provide tax breaks, and increase the industry's security of long-term power contracts. The inclusion of metal extraction from geothermal brine can provide geothermal projects with a new competitive advantage while also assisting the industry in obtaining more favorable policy treatment for its operations.
How The Troubled Salton Sea Could Become The World's Largest Lithium Supplier