When you hear the term “valuable metal,” your mind may go straight to gold or silver. But a recent discovery proves that the true goldmine is a major cache of lithium — and it may be closer to home than you’d think.
Why is lithium valuable?
Lithium is a critical metal used for the creation of EV batteries.
The limited amount of lithium and other metals needed for the batteries, like cobalt and nickel, can create a bottleneck in generating new batteries.
Why is this lithium cache important?
The newly discovered lithium deposit is believed to be one of the world’s most significant and available sources of lithium — and it’s located in the United States.
The McDermitt Caldera, on the border of Oregon and Nevada, is estimated to hold between 22 and 44 million tons of the metal, according to Futurism. This makes global leader Bolivia’s 23 million tons encased in salt flats look less significant.
“If you believe their back-of-the-envelope estimation, this is a very, very significant deposit of lithium,” Anouk Borst, a geologist at KU Leuven University, told Chemistry World. “It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply, and geopolitics.”
Unlike other global sources of lithium, which is often stored in brine or hard rocks, a good source of this deposit’s lithium is encased in clays and claystones.
The location of the clay-rich sedimentary material relative to the Earth’s surface makes removal of the metal easier and significantly cheaper than other global stores.
How will this impact the renewable energy economy?
This massive jackpot of lithium has the potential to catapult the United States into becoming even more of a critical player than it is in the global renewable energy economy.
Since lithium is currently a metal in short supply (and was listed on the 2022 United States Geological Survey’s list of “critical minerals” essential to the country’s economy and national security), having major stores of it can speed up the production of batteries and potentially make it more affordable for manufacturers and consumers alike.
It may also make manufacturing EVs more practical than breaking ground to extract oil, coal, and gas to power the dirty-energy economy.
In addition, mining the clay-encased mineral should create less environmental damage than other lithium extraction methods.
Since most of the lithium stores are concentrated in part of the Thacker Pass in Nevada, it will reduce the amount of land that needs to be disturbed for mining. This can reduce negative environmental impacts, like surface pollution.
The mining operation — by Lithium Americas, whose biggest shareholder is the world’s largest lithium mining company, Ganfeng Lithium — has also had its fair share of controversy. Indigenous groups, who have claim over parts of the deposit, and conservationists have voiced their concerns with the environmental and cultural impacts of the program and raised legal challenges.
Advocates have argued that the ecological drawbacks of mining lithium are needed to produce “clean energy” batteries and rapidly decarbonize the economy. A district court denied the appeals in July 2023, and the project has since broken ground.
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