Tiny geothermal set to provide a prodigious perk
Turns out that a vital battery ingredient is there for the taking.
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
Some call them the orphan renewables. Geothermal and tidal, that is. Both have the advantage of not being affected, unlike solar and wind, by vagaries in the weather. And they also tend to be less visually polluting.
But they are relatively expensive to build, a large part of the reason that geothermal provides less than 0.5% of American electricity generation and the U.S. has zero tidal plants, according to the Energy Information Administration.
But what if they brought a side benefit? A big one?
In geothermal’s case, it is much-needed lithium, a vital ingredient in most EV batteries and energy storage, and the cause of much concern over rising prices and political tensions.
It turns out that the much-sought-after substance is in the hot brines responsible for driving geothermal turbines contain a lot of lithium, about 30% of dissolved solids, according to scientists at Boise State University and the University of California, Riverside.
In particular, the researchers are working at the Salton Sea, an inland body of water in Southern California that has 11 geothermal plants exploiting hot spots along the San Andreas Fault.
“We believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising,” wrote Boise State energy policy expert Bryant Jones and UCR’s Michael McKibben, a geologist, in an article in The Conversation. They are referring in particular to sparring with major lithium producers China and Russia, with whom already bubbling unease has increased since the start of the Ukraine war.
And here’s the astonishing underground news, report Jones and McKibben: “If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, [the] geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand.”