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The California (geothermal-brine based) Lithium supply chain opportunity

Desert Shore, Salton Sea, California (source: flickr/ shastared, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 14 Feb 2020

With the great lithium resources in geothermal brines in California, there is a great supply chain opportunity for the Sunshine State, as described at a recent meeting by California's Lithium Recovery Initiative.

At the recent Symposium set up by California’s Lithium Recovery Initiative, an interesting presentation looked into the Supply Chain Opportunity for Lithium in the Californian context.

Presented by Alexander Grant, CEO & Principal of Jade Cove Partners, it provides a fantastic overview on Lithium Ion, the growing Lithium market, where the lithium chemicals for batteries come from, and what opportunities there are for a vertical integration for Lithium in California.

In his presentation, he describes the surge in demand for Lithium expected by 2023 and 2028. While the demand for Lithium in batteries was around 150,000 tonnes in 2018, it is expected to increase to 1,480,000 tonnes, a ten-fold increase. To meet that demand, around 68 new 25,000 tLCE/ year extraction projects would be needed by 2030 to meet demand. The largest demand there is for Lithium hydroxide. Other key points mentioned are the demand for higher purity lithium and production that does not depend on weather and location.

The description where lithium resources are derived, describes two main commercial Lithium hydroxide supply chains. Either from South America to North America, or Australia to Asia. The picture though is changing based on both mineral and brine extraction, as well as refining.

So where does this put California. As we only have the slides of the presentation, we cannot extract exactly what the author shared, yet the connection to battery production in Nevada (Gigafactory by Tesla) and car production seems to be a factor, as are the different lithium projects.

The opportunity in deriving Lithium from geothermal brine in California is described very positively, mostly due to the fact it provides zero-carbon heat from brine, is in close proximity to future battery manufactures, brine will be reinjected and the U.S. (and Germany) essentially pose zero sovereign (political) risk for development.

In the context of lithium resources in the Salton Sea, question is how direct lithium extraction looks like.

To see the presentation have a look here.