A new report funded by the U.S. Energy Department reveals that Southern California’s Salton Sea could be sitting on one of the world’s largest lithium reserves, potentially powering 375 million electric vehicle batteries.
Report’s Key Findings
- The report estimates around 18 million metric tons of lithium carbonate in the Salton Sea’s underground reserve, unconnected to the surface lake.
- This quantity is substantial enough to power more electric vehicles than are currently on U.S. roads.
Lithium’s Growing Demand
Lithium, nicknamed “white gold” for its color, has seen a surge in demand due to the rise of electric vehicles. Co-author Michael Mckibben noted that this discovery could make the U.S. self-sufficient in lithium, reducing reliance on imports, especially from China.
U.S. Companies Eyeing ‘Lithium Valley’
- Numerous companies are converging on the Salton Sea, now being promoted as ‘Lithium Valley’.
- A key challenge is developing technology to extract lithium from geothermal brine at a commercial scale. This method is less invasive than traditional hard rock mining.
Geothermal Resources in Salton Sea
- The Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area currently has 400 megawatts of geothermal electricity generation capacity.
- The potential for up to 2,950 megawatts exists in this region.
Economic and Environmental Implications
- Imperial County plans to tax lithium extraction, directing 80% of revenue to the county.
- Despite economic prospects, concerns about the environmental impact of mining persist. A 2023 Earthworks report highlighted the need for further research on mining’s potential effects on the region’s water and air.
- Controlled Thermal Resources CEO Rod Colwell affirmed the report’s findings about the Salton Sea’s lithium reserves.
- Community concerns remain about the environmental and economic impacts, with advocates calling for clear agreements to ensure equitable wealth distribution and minimal environmental harm.
This discovery at the Salton Sea could significantly alter the lithium market, potentially propelling the U.S. to a leading position in lithium production. However, the balancing act between economic development and environmental preservation remains a crucial aspect of this emerging opportunity.