Report: Salton Sea ‘Lithium Valley’ Could Supply 33% of Global Demand

6 Oct 2020

Just one week after a law was signed in California creating a special committee to explore the potential of the Salton Sea to yield significant amounts of lithium, a report concludes it could result in a multi-billion dollar windfall for the state and its electric vehicles. The report by the non-profit New Energy Nexus says the extraction could help the economy recover from the pandemic, create thousands of jobs, and make the state a key player in the competitive battery market.

“Through meaningful engagement with the local community, building out the value chain downstream and around Lithium Valley can drive a just transition for the region, while catapulting the U.S. into a leadership position in the 21st Century economy,” Danny Kennedy, CEO of New Energy Nexus, said Oct. 6. That includes creating up to 4,000 jobs, 1,400 of them permanent.

This inland sea is projected to able to supply one-third of surging global lithium demand. Batteries used in electric vehicles, and energy storage make up about 65% of the demand for this critical mineral, up from 22% in 2012.

There are 1.7 million EVs around the world. They are projected to rise to 26 million by 2030 and 54 million by mid-century.

Creating a vibrant lithium industry in the Salton Sea region also is expected to help the state meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued two weeks ago requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold in the state be zero-emission by 2035.

Last week, Newsom signed  AB 1657 by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) directing a Blue Ribbon Committee at the California Energy Commission to produce a report by March 1 on the potential to develop lithium in the lawmaker’s struggling and polluted district.   

The southern shores of the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley, the state’s poorest county, also is home to 345 MW of geothermal plants producing lithium-laden brine. It is the second largest geothermal development in the U.S. The Geysers in Northern California is the largest.

The concentrated brine produced by the evaporative geothermal process at the Salton Sea is estimated to produce up to 122,000 metric tons of lithium a year by 2030. Lithium extraction from brine is less damaging to the environment than other extraction methods, in particular mining. Profitable lithium production also would help offset the costs of new baseload geothermal power plants.

The report highlights that the development of lithium extraction in the Salton Sea also could result in funds to protect against the significant respiratory health problems of nearby communities burdened with some of the worst pollution in the state. These regions also have recently suffered additional heavy losses from Covid-19. Funds could also be used to protect the habitat of local fish and birds suffering due to the desiccation of the Salton Sea.

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