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DOE launches new Lithium Extraction Prize

The current US lithium stock is almost entirely imported, with only 1% of US lithium supply being sourced domestically. Furthermore, traditional sources of lithium are environmentally destructive. This combination of rapidly expanding global demand and lack of a safe, domestic supply has created an urgency to develop a safe, domestic, cost-competitive source of lithium to ensure American leadership in the transition to a carbon-free economy and a robust domestic supply chain.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has launched the American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize. The prize was launched during NextGen Geo, a live virtual event uniting geothermal industry professionals, geosciences students, and clean energy entrepreneurs for a series of panel discussions on hot topics related to geothermal and renewable energy.

The American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize seeks to drive forward the development of economic direct lithium extraction (DLE) from geothermal brines found at the Salton Sea by partnering novel geothermal and non-geothermal expertise with experienced DLE industry experts to overcome challenges of geothermal lithium extraction by:

  • Developing electrochemical/electrolysis processes for the direct conversion of a lithium-bearing geothermal brine to a lithium hydroxide product without the intermediate creation of lithium carbonate.

  • Developing new absorbents, precipitants, catalysts, or new processing conditions that can efficiently and selectively extract lithium directly from geothermal brines.

  • Advancements that improve the yield and achievable product purity.

  • Advancements that reduce energy and water consumption rates.

  • Advancements that minimize and/or monetize waste products.

Competitors must be affiliated with a US academic institution and will participate in three escalating challenges for an opportunity to win a portion of a $4 million cash prize pool.


Phase 1 is currently open, with submissions due by Friday, 2 July 2021. In the coming weeks, DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) will post recorded interviews to the prize website that will feature Industry Advisory Panel members discussing various extraction challenges in the Salton Sea.

The prize is one of several DOE competitions helping to bolster workforce development within the American geothermal industry. Workforce development is a key component of achieving the potential for a 26-fold increase in US geothermal electricity generation by 2050, as outlined in the Department’s 2019 GeoVision study.

As part of NextGen Geo, DOE also announced ten semifinalists for the American-Made Geothermal Manufacturing Prize, a competition designed to spur innovation and address manufacturing challenges fundamental to operating in harsh geothermal environments.

The Geothermal Manufacturing Prize, launched in 2020, supports the American geothermal industry in reaching the GeoVision target of 60 gigawatts-electric (GWe) of geothermal capacity by 2050 through technical advances and workforce development.


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