NewsCould The U.S. Become Lithium Independent?

Could The U.S. Become Lithium Independent?

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com. 

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By Alex Kimani – Apr 15, 2024, 6:00 PM CDT

  • The McDermitt Caldera, a volcanic crater on the Nevada-Oregon border, houses 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium deposits.
  • Last month, the DoE announced a conditional loan of $2.26 billion to Lithium America’s Thacker Pass project in Nevada to be used for the construction of the company’s on-site refining facility.
  • Despite having some of the world’s biggest lithium resources, the United States currently has limited capabilities to extract, refine, and produce domestically sourced lithium.

Thacker pass

Last year, the U.S. made major lithium breakthroughs with the potential to make the country self-sufficient in the critical battery metal for decades. In September, a group of scientists funded by Lithium Americas Corporation (NYSE:LAC) reported that the McDermitt Caldera, a volcanic crater on the Nevada-Oregon border, houses 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium deposits. For perspective, that volume is nearly double the 23 million metric tonnes found in Bolivia. 

In December, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it had confirmed that a massive lithium deposit tucked underneath California’s Salton Sea has a resource of more than 3,400 kilotons of lithium–enough to support over 375 million batteries for electric vehicles. Both estimates dwarf the 14 million metric tonnes of lithium resource the U.S. Geological Survey has so far managed to map.

Well, the Biden administration appears to be wasting no time trying to achieve the American dream of energy independence. After a dozen years of engineering, permitting and financing, Australia’s Controlled Thermal Resources has finally begun construction of their Salton Sea lithium mine and geothermal power plant. The project will initially produce 25,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year and potentially up to 175,000 metric tons once completed. The plant will also generate 350 megawatts of round-the-clock geothermal power–the DoE estimates that Salton Sea’s  Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA) has about 2,950 megawatts (MW) of geothermal electricity generation capacity.

Meanwhile, last month, the DoE announced a conditional loan of $2.26 billion to Lithium America’s Thacker Pass project in Nevada to be used for the construction of the company’s on-site refining facility. 

According to the company, the illite-bearing Miocene lacustrine sediments at Thacker Pass contain extremely high lithium grades (up to ~1 weight % of Li), more than double the whole-rock concentration of lithium in smectite-rich claystones in the caldera and other known claystone lithium resources globally (<0.4 weight % of Li). 

The scientists have hypothesized that the unique lithium enrichment of illite at Thacker Pass resulted from secondary lithium- and fluorine-bearing hydrothermal alteration of primary neoformed smectite-bearing sediments, a phenomenon previously unknown. LAC plans to begin lithium production on the Thacker Pass project in 2026. 

If they can extract the lithium in a very low energy intensive way,

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