California Governor Gavin Newsom this week signed Assembly Bill 1657, which will create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California. The commission will comprise 14 members appointed by a combination of the California Energy Commission, other state agencies, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Committee on Rules.
The Blue Ribbon Commission will review, investigate, and analyze certain issues and potential incentives regarding lithium extraction and use in California. It will also consult, if feasible, with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Energy in performing these tasks.
The Blue Ribbon Commission must submit, on or before 1 October 2022, a report to the Legislature documenting its findings and recommendations.
Background. Global demand for lithium is expected to grow as much as ten-fold over the next decade, particularly with the increasing use of lithium for batteries within multiple energy and transportation applications. Currently, virtually all of the lithium used in the US is produced outside the country—most is mined in Argentina, Chile, China, and Australia. The only current domestic supply comes from the Silver Peak mine in Nevada.
(According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk in his Battery Day presentation, Tesla has secured a terawatt-hour scale lithium resource in the US to provide the company with the raw materials needed for cell production. Earlier post.)
The CEC believes an increase in demand for lithium coupled with advances in processes and technologies for lithium recovery, may provide California with a unique opportunity to foster a more environmentally-sound lithium product coupled with geothermal electricity production.
Increased recovery of lithium from geothermal brine is also expected to generate revenue and local in-state economic development opportunities in an economically-depressed area, and the potential to produce a world-class source of battery-grade lithium within California. Uniquely high concentrations of the dissolved soft metal are found in the brine produced by the state's geothermal hotspots. California has vast lithium deposits—potentially as much as one-third of the world's current lithium demand according to some industry estimates. Most of these deposits are located in, and around, the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley. (Earlier post.)
The Salton Sea presents a unique opportunity to extract lithium from the brine that is already being produced by geothermal power plants around the Salton Sea. According to some estimates, the Salton Sea is capable of producing 600 kilotons of lithium per year and those resources could be extracted in a more environmentally-friendly manner than in other lithium-producing countries.
The CEC has a long history of promoting the development of geothermal energy resources and technologies, including funding research projects that demonstrate lithium and other mineral recovery from geothermal brine. At this critical point in time for lithium use and production, CEC staff are actively seeking to identify ways to resolve barriers to development and support opportunities for lithium recovery from geothermal brine within California. A focus is advancing California’s unique opportunity to recover lithium from geothermal brine in support of California’s clean energy future. The CEC has held workshops, tours, and funded projects to advance these efforts.