Toxic lake could make the United States a leading producer of lithium

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In the US state of California, a number of companies are beginning to build infrastructure that will make it possible to extract lithium, an essential raw material for the production of electric car batteries, from underground. Lithium is found in the by-products of a number of geothermal power plants operating in the region.

A new center of lithium mining could develop around the Salton Sea, a 970 square kilometer lake heavily polluted with agricultural pesticide residues and minerals such as molybdenum, cadmium, selenium and lithium.


The United States wants to become the world leader in lithium mining. Currently, the country must buy all its supplies from China and a limited number of other countries. “However, this situation could change within a few years if an efficient method is found to extract waste lithium from geothermal power plants in California,” observers note.

California has a number of power plants that produce electricity from geothermal energy. Technology accounts for 6 percent of the US state’s total electricity production.

However, the product is still more expensive than other renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, but that could change if the wastewater from the process could be treated.

After all, wastewater from power plants is a brine with a mixture of dissolved minerals and minerals. This includes lithium. Technologies that can isolate lithium from that waste could provide significant added value to the US economy.

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Studies by the US Department of Energy show that the Salton Sea – one of California’s two largest geothermal production sites – can produce about 600,000 tons of lithium per year. This stock is higher than the quantities currently consumed by the United States.

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The activity could generate $7.2 billion in annual revenue. Moreover, strong growth in activity can be expected in the long term. By the end of this decade, global demand for lithium is expected to increase at least tenfold.

The activity could also provide significant job opportunities in the region, which is struggling with high unemployment. Industrial activity can also reduce the toxicity of the Salton Sea through the treatment of brine and thus have a positive environmental impact on the environment.

The salinity of the Salton Sea is 6.8%. In the Pacific, a level of 3.5 percent was recorded. The area around the lake is now referred to as “Lithium Valley”.

Additionally, lithium mining can be considered in a number of other locations in California, such as Arizona and Nevada.


However, experts also point out a number of bottlenecks. “Lithium separation is a very complex process,” explains Will Stringfellow, head of lithium research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In addition, a number of logistical challenges should also be resolved. Moreover, the extraction must be done in a sustainable way, without burdening the environment.”

In some countries, lithium is traditionally mined, but in California the brine must be sucked to the surface and pumped to storage ponds.

There, the heat of the sun must evaporate the water, leaving behind only lithium and a number of other raw materials. However, this process can take up to two years. In addition, it can also recover up to 50 percent of the total reserves of lithium.

To help find a solution, the US government has allocated a budget of $30 million for studies that can lead to efficient mining.

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The California Energy Commission itself has authorized three companies to build pilot facilities on the Salton Sea. The construction of the necessary infrastructure has already begun.


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