California’s Salton Sea: Largest Lithium Deposits Uncovered

California's Salton Sea: Largest Lithium Deposits Uncovered

As southern California’s Salton Sea struggles with dryness, an unexpected find under its surface has spurred fierce competition. The lake, once a popular vacation destination, now contains one of North America’s biggest lithium deposits, attracting interest from various stakeholders, including Energy Source Minerals (ESM) and other corporations looking to exploit this resource. 

This initiative not only represents a big potential for the electric vehicle (EV) sector, but it also provides a glimpse of hope for the area’s environmental rehabilitation.

According to The Press-Enterprise, a Department of Energy assessment shows that there is enough lithium in the Southern California location to make batteries for 375 million EVs. It is sufficient to replace every dirty-fuel-powered car on US roads now. 

“It’s pretty exciting how much is there,” said Michael McKibben, a geology research professor at UC Riverside who worked on the project.

The Salton Sea’s drying up has presented environmental issues, but the discovery of large lithium resources under its surface provides a unique silver lining. Lithium, a vital component in EV batteries, is in high demand as the globe transitions toward renewable energy sources. 

Three businesses, most notably ESM, are leading the way in developing technology for efficiently extracting lithium from the lake’s brine. Using its existing geothermal plant infrastructure, ESM says that its revolutionary extraction technique can recover up to 90% of the lithium present, possibly providing batteries for millions of EVs each year.

The brine’s severe characteristics, including as high temperatures, salinity, and acidity, provide tremendous hurdles to the extraction process. However, ESM’s unique ILiAD technology, similar to a sophisticated ‘Brita filter,’ selectively adsorbs lithium while allowing other contaminants to pass through. This discovery represents a significant step toward sustainable lithium mining and helps the ecosystem by reducing lake pollution and preventing future desiccation.

Forecasts, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, says Michel Jebrak, professor emeritus at the Université du Québec à Montréal, an expert in metallic mineral resources and author of a book on lithium and the energy revolution.

“These are statements of anticipation in order to attract funding,” Jebrak told the audience.

He acknowledges that direct recovery of lithium from brines has clear benefits: “It permits nearly rapid recovery. It is therefore quicker than evaporation ponds. It’s also better than mining spodumene [lithium crystals].”

However, he notes that the technique demonstrated by ESM has not yet been proved on a broad scale.

According to him, the Salton Sea deposit contains a lower and more variable concentration of lithium than other sources.

In short, the biggest benefit of Californian lithium, according to the UQAM researcher, is to increase the United States’ independence from China.

The Salton Sea’s lithium deposits have the potential to reshape the global lithium market and considerably strengthen the United States’ position in the renewable energy industry. Furthermore, the restoration of this area through lithium mining provides economic hope to the local residents impacted by the lake’s decrease. 

With the potential to create jobs and encourage growth, the initiative combines environmental restoration with technical innovation, establishing a precedent for similar projects throughout the world.

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