While the U.S. has vast lithium reserves underground, firms have been sluggish to engage in mining and extraction. The car industry is deploying fleets of electric vehicles driven by lithium-ion batteries.
That’ll change. Near the Salton Sea, California is developing clean-energy lithium enterprises. Companies are rushing to make money in Lithium Valley, like California’s 1849 Gold Rush.
EnergySource Minerals’ president and CEO, Eric Spomer, recovers lithium from geothermal brine.
“Estimates of this resource’s size generally use yearly tons generated. “We’re confident this is over 300,000 tons a year,” Spomer added. “Right now, that’s way more than half the world supply of lithium.”
Spomer said EnergySource Minerals’ lithium project might be operational by 2025.
Lithium is usually mined or recovered from evaporation ponds. Spomer claimed EnergySource Minerals’ lithium process will be the world’s cleanest and most efficient.
The Salton Sea uses geothermal electric plant brine to improve its process. From almost a mile underground, 600° brine rises. Steam drives turbines, generating energy.
Mineral-rich brine was formerly returned to the soil. EnergySource wants to build a clean, billion-dollar facility to extract lithium from brine and inject it underground in the coming months.
Lithium estimates in the region are astonishing. Spomer told 60 Minutes that the region could recover enough metal to supply 7.5 million electric cars, half of U.S. car and truck sales.
EnergySource is leading the Salton Sea lithium charge, but others are also. Warren Buffett’s BHE Renewables operates 10 regional geothermal energy projects. Controlled Thermal Resources in Australia is developing another. Lithium rushes both ventures.
Controlled Thermal Resources’ test facility is near EnergySource’s. Based on their findings, CEO Rod Colwell stated the business will establish a lithium recovery factory. Their test laboratory extracted lithium.
“We know it works,” Colwell remarked.
Lithium mining costs $4,000 per ton and sells for six times more.
As firms want to profit from what California Gov. Gavin Newsom calls “the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” others wonder: Will it work for everyone? California’s poorest region has a huge lithium supply. The Colorado River inundated the basin in 1905 to form the Salton Sea, but for the past 50 years, chemical-laden agricultural runoff has been its major supply of water. The sea has evaporated for decades. Environmental deterioration, poisonous dust, and economic suffering have replaced the tourism sector. Local unemployment is 16%.
Frank Ruiz, local program director for the Audubon Society and a commissioner on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California, said the lithium business might provide better employment and benefit the community. He said industrialization must balance nature and communities.
“We need to learn how to balance the tables,” Ruiz remarked.
As electric car demand grows, that balance will matter.
“Over 50% of our lineup and retails sales will be from battery electric vehicles by the end of the decade,” Stellantis’ North American operations chief Mark Stewart told Bill Whitaker. Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram vehicles, is investing $35 billion to make electrified cars and trucks.
“We’re reimagining our factories — on our assembly plants,” Stewart remarked. “They’re already rolling our plug-in hybrids—as well as looking to two new battery joint ventures that are in full construction right now.”
Stellantis will buy lithium from Controlled Thermals Resources for 10 years, even though it won’t be commercially accessible. General Motors also buys Salton Sea lithium.
The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act’s tax incentives are driving electric car prices down to match gas automobiles in a few years. EnergySource’s Spomer claimed tax incentives had helped boost local lithium. Lithium won’t need to be acquired, processed, and refined overseas soon thanks to lithium-ion battery supply chain developments.
“It’s a competitive advantage,” Spomer added. It’s a chance to lead worldwide. Why not lead?