BHE Renewables receives $15m in U.S. DOE grant funding for geothermal lithium demonstration project

BHE Renewables receives $15m in U.S. DOE grant funding for geothermal lithium demonstration project Elmore geothermal plant by BHE Renewables (source: Berkshire Hathaway Energy)
Alexander Richter 29 Jan 2021

BHE Renewables has received a $14.9 million grant in cost matching funding for a demonstration plant to produce battery-grade lithium from geothermal brine at its geothermal operations at the Salton Sea, California.

BHE Renewables (formerly CalEnergy) has received a grant by the U.S. Department of Energy for its lithium extraction efforts from geothermal brine at its operations in the Salton Sea, California.

This nearly $15 million award will support the construction of a demonstration plant to convert lithium chloride into battery-grade lithium hydroxide in Calipatria, California. The grant was announced earlier this month and complements statewide and regional efforts to advance lithium recovery opportunities around the Salton Sea.

“After persistent and collaborative advocacy, it is exciting to see momentum build for lithium projects in Imperial Valley. I congratulate BHE Renewables on this nearly $15 million investment and commend their efforts to galvanize a competitive lithium industry in California,” declared Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “While the Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area is home to the largest deposits of lithium reserves in North America, virtually none is produced in the United States. As global demand for lithium continues to grow and California works to achieve our zero-emission vehicle goals, we are presented with the perfect opportunity for our region to be part of this push and lead economic recovery.”

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia went on to acknowledge the California Energy Commission (CEC), “We truly appreciate the support and leadership of Commissioner Douglas and Chair Hochschild. The CEC’s partnership is instrumental as we propel towards our clean energy and electric vehicle future.”

Last year, the CEC awarded a $6 million matching grant to BHE Renewables for a demonstration plant that would recover lithium reliably and cost-effectively from geothermal brine in the form of a lithium chloride solution.

“Successful lithium production from geothermal brine could become the catalyst to revive Imperial Valley’s decades-old geothermal power industry, not just creating new jobs but also making the price of baseload geothermal power more cost effective for the benefit of California customers. These two projects represent bold steps in further solidifying the state’s global leadership in renewable energy and sustainability,” said Jonathan M. Weisgall, Vice President of Government Relations at Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

On December 9, 2020, the CEC appointed nine members to the new Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California (Lithium Valley Commission). This fourteen seat commission, created through Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s AB 1657 (2020), will bring together industry experts and community stakeholders to review, analyze, and report their recommendations to advance lithium extraction opportunities.

Recognizing the timeliness and significance of these grants, CEC Commissioner Karen Douglas said: “Geothermal has been an important part of California’s renewable energy portfolio and there is a growing opportunity to co-locate lithium extraction with geothermal power in the Salton Sea region. The key to unlocking the potential of the Salton Sea region is realizing the Lithium Valley vision, which the CEC is leading through its support of the Lithium Valley Commission.”

Details on the grant:

  • Grant lead organization: BHER Minerals, LLC
  • Topic Name/ Large Scale Projects: Electrolytic Production of Battery-Grade LiOH•H2O from Geothermal Brine
  • Partners: ZAP Engineering & Construction Services, Inc., CalEnergy Operating Corp, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, Momentum
  • Location: Calipatria, CA
  • DOE Funding: $14,894,540
  • Cost Share: $14,894,541
  • Total Cost: $29,789,081

For some interesting background on lithium extraction efforts at the Salton Sea, read this article by Lawrence Berkely Laboratory here.

Source:  Assemblymember Eduard Garcia release, U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy