California sees white gold rush for lithium from geothermal

California sees white gold rush for lithium from geothermal CTR's construction work on title page of NYT (source: screenshot)
Alexander Richter 12 May 2021

There is an international race for the white gold of the electric car sector and this is lithium. California's Salton Sea is among the prime spots receiving a lot of attention.

Earlier this week, we reported on the new “white gold” rush for lithium from geothermal brine in Germany, a much needed mineral for the batteries needed for the increasing market for electric cars.

Given national interest and strategic considerations, a lot of countries are seeing the securing of domestic lithium supply as crucial to support their car industries and that includes the U.S. The eyes are therefore also directed on California and in particular the Salton Sea. Over the years we reported not only on the early efforts by Simbol Materials, the new efforts by  BHE Renewables, EnergySource and of course our friends at Controlled Thermal Resources.

Among others, National Public Radio in the U.S. recently covered the story highlighting the administration of President Biden in the U.S. efforts to boost domestic production of rare metals, including lithium for lithium-ion batteries.

The story features the Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power project by Controlled Thermal Resources, where the company recently started construction work. The company will be tapping geothermal energy not only for its brine and the lithium it contains, but also for power generation making the lithium to be derived not only valuable but also much more environmentally friendly than solid-state lithium mined elsewhere in the world.

As Rod Colwell, CEO  of Controlled Thermal Resources states, that the “best part is that geothermal lithium is environmentally benign and produces very few carbon emissions. … [and is essentially] 100% green.”

The attention is there and so is the interest to see this opportunity being tapped.  Last year, a Lithium Valley Commission was created by California seeing the development for geothermal lithium and power as a great driver for local economic development. “With the opportunity to develop lithium from the Salton Sea in California, the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction (Lithium Valley Commission) is directed to review, investigate, and analyze opportunities and benefits for lithium recovery and use in the state. A final report is due to the State Legislature by October 1, 2022.”

There also has been funding made available by the California Energy Commission to two companies, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Controlled Thermal Resources. Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are working with these two companies to evaluate and analyze their lithium extraction technologies.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance though does not see much change to  the current dependence on supply from China, but in the next 4-5 years something could happen in the Salton Sea that could change things.

The market, so Coldwell, has caught up and things are coming together.

“CTR and our project engineering consultants at Hatch have completed extensive test work and design work to demonstrate that direct lithium extraction from Salton Sea geothermal brine is competitive on a worldwide basis,” so CTR’s CEO Rod Colwell said. “The opportunity to develop lithium extraction and conversion facilities that complement the latest advancements in geothermal power plant engineering will enable our team to design and construct commercial facilities that offer superior operating and economic outcomes. We look forward to working with the Berkeley Lab team as we prepare for this next evolution in renewable energy and critical minerals production in the United States.”

The company has started construction work as it had announced in April of this year, and we reported.

Start of construction, Hell’s Kitchen project, April 2021 (source: Controlled Thermal Resources)

CTR even made it on the title page of the New York Times recently

Source: NPR