Lithium and Geothermal
Global use of electric vehicles (EVs) is expected to rise significantly as countries try to reach their net zero CO2 goals. Market forecasting from BloombergNEF estimates that by 2030 over half of vehicle sales will not be solely using the internal combustion engine, and by 2040 that figure will have risen to over 80%.
That transition will help feed a tenfold increase in battery demand through 2030, equating to a global demand for 1.5 million metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent.
This upswing in the demand for batteries is expected to create a competition to control the lithium supply chain. As U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has observed, "America is in a race against economic competitors like China to own the EV market—and the supply chains for critical materials like lithium and cobalt will determine whether we win or lose...If we want to achieve a 100% carbon-free economy by 2050, we have to create our own supply of these materials, including alternatives here at home in America. And we must scale up new American industries that will create millions of good-paying union jobs to do it.” (DoE press release)
The Imperial Valley has such vast lithium potential that California Governor Gavin Newsom referred to the area as "the Saudi Arabia of lithium" as he recently announced the state's new budget proposal, dubbed the "California Blueprint".
To take advantage of this opportunity to develop lithium from the Imperial Valley area, the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction was established last year through California state legislation and directed to review, investigate, and analyze opportunities and benefits for lithium recovery and use in the state.
In the Imperial Valley, minerals like lithium are transported in the geothermal brine extracted from the hot rocks at depth. By co-producing the mineral and heat recovery together it strengthens economic arguments for both, provides a more environmentally friendly method of obtaining the critical minerals than conventional mining techniques, and uses clean renewable energy for the processing.
Three geothermal energy operators in Imperial Valley are already at the pilot plant development and demonstration phase with each forecasting 10s to 100s of thousands of metric tons production per year depending on demand -- enough to meet a significant proportion of that global need. One such project is Controlled Thermal Resources' Hell's Kitchen project, an artist's impression of which can be seen below.
Of course, there is an opportunity here for not just the recovery of lithium from these geothermal brines, but to build on top of that an entire battery and electric vehicle ecosystem in an area of central Southern California that has suffered from economic hardship.
"Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021" by BloombergNEF (link: https://about.bnef.com/electric-vehicle-outlook/ )
"California Banks on Lithium Extraction and Geothermal Holds the Key" by Lisa Howard-Fusco (link: https://geothermal.org/our-impact/blog/california-banks-lithium-extraction-and-geothermal-holds-key)
"Drilling for 'White Gold' is Happening Right Now at the Salton Sea" by Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times (link: https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-11-15/drilling-for-white-gold-is-happening-right-now-at-the-salton-sea )
"Salton Sea is Key to CA's EV Future, Contains 1/3 of Global Lithium Supply" by Susan Carpenter (link: https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-west/environment/2021/05/27/salton-sea-is-key-to-ca-s-ev-future--contains-1-3-of-global-lithium-supply )
"CTR Commences Drill Program at Hell's Kitchen Lithium and Power" from Controlled Thermal Resources website (link: https://www.cthermal.com/latest-news/ctr-commences-drill-program-at-hells-kitchen-lithium-and-power )
"Competitiveness of Direct Mineral Extraction from Geothermal Brines" by Anna Wall (link: https://publications.mygeoenergynow.org/grc/1034175.pdf)