Southern California’s Salton Sea is an extremely salty lake with new potential. The Salton Sea is currently seen as an environmental wasteland. It has become polluted with chemicals that have runoff from agricultural lands. In addition, the lake is drying up. Old resort areas around the lake are deserted as the Salton Sea continues to shrink. It has been discovered that this sad body of water does still hold something of value….a large lithium deposit.
Lithium is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most valuable resources as it is needed to make the lithium-ion batteries found in electric vehicles. In addition, lithium batteries are used to store energy produced by other green methods. According to an article in Spectrum News 1, the Salton Sea is sitting on an enormous lithium deposit. It is reportedly enough to supply 40% of the global demand for lithium.
The issue is that the deposit is located under the lake. The system for extracting the lithium is a bit complex but is much more eco-friendly than a traditional open-pit mine. Essentially, scientists will tap into extremely hot water under the earth’s surface to generate steam that can produce electricity. With the electricity, lithium can be extracted from the geothermal brine. This is much easier said than done, but it is encouraging that it is possible.
According to the article, 95% of the world’s lithium comes from China, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. There are significant economic benefits for the U.S. if it can sustainably produce lithium. A shortage of lithium is expected in the next few years.