The California Energy Commission (CEC) awarded $7.8 to two lithium recovery projects. Uniquely high concentrations of the dissolved soft metal are found in the brine produced by the state’s geothermal hotspots.
The Salton Sea Known Geothermal Area contains an estimated six million tons of recoverable lithium within presently available geothermal resources. Yet, significant barriers stand in the way of accessing this abundant resource and using it to achieve many of the state’s statutory energy goals, including increasing the value of geothermal resources to California’s electricity system.
The major challenges for lithium production in this region relate to the harsh chemistry of the brine and the difficultly of developing a low-cost and highly selective process for lithium recovery. These challenges have to date prevented commercial deployment of conventional lithium recovery technologies.
The new lithium recovery projects awarded funding are designed to help reduce costs and environmental impact. They include:
$6 million to BHER Minerals, LLC for a demonstration project at an existing geothermal power facility in Calipatria (Salton Sea area) that can cost-effectively process at least 100 gallons of geothermal brine per minute to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate.
The project team will test and demonstrate a unique approach to processing this challenging brine chemistry. The technological advancements to be pursued will be 1) the development of a pre-treatment process that will prepare the incoming brine for lithium removal during the subsequent lithium recovery phase and 2) the demonstration of a lithium recovery system capable of long-term, economic recovery of lithium from pre-processed geothermal brine.
$1.8 million to Palo Alto-based Materials Research LLC for a pilot-scale demonstration project that uses a newly developed sorbent material to extract lithium from brine and a separate process for the direct formation of high-purity lithium carbonate, which has additional economic value in industry and medicine.
In recent years the global demand for lithium has increased significantly as clean energy resources rapidly replace fossil fuels in the transportation, building, and energy sectors.
California’s vast lithium deposits—as much as one third of the world’s current lithium demand according to some industry estimates—are also seen as a way to propel the state’s green economy. Deposits in the Imperial Valley alone could potentially produce up to $860 million annually in revenues, according to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
In February, the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), jointly hosted a symposium facilitating presentations and panel discussions on lithium recovery from geothermal brine in California.
The theme for this symposium was introducing California’s “Lithium Valley” vision of establishing a world-class lithium industry in the state. A focus is advancing California’s unique opportunity to recover lithium from geothermal brine in support of California’s clean energy future.
The CEC also awarded $10 million in grants for three geothermal-related projects.