In the last few years, almost every American has heard of “lithium.” However, who knew it was this important? From an article in 2009:
Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere — in your phone, laptop, and by this time next year, maybe your car. The technology is slated for GM’s Chevy Volt, Toyota’s plug-in Prius, and electric versions of the Daimler Smart and BMW Mini.
Until recently, lithium went primarily into ceramics and glass. Now batteries make up one-fifth of the world’s end-use market for the mineral…
As expected, we imported a lot of it:
Higher lithium prices could also give the nascent U.S. battery industry a steeper climb to the top. The U.S. consumes more lithium than any other country, despite having only 760,000 tons of the world’s 13.8 million tons of identified lithium resources (those of known quantity, quality and grade), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. While most U.S. lithium imports now come from Chile and Argentina (69 and 29 percent, respectively) China has brought new supply online in the last few years. In a peak-lithium world, that could put Asia’s already-leading battery makers one more step ahead.
Yesterday morning, Business Insider came out with some good news about the future of lithium in America:
University of Wyoming researchers found the lithium while studying the idea of storing carbon dioxide underground in the Rock Springs Uplift, a geologic formation in southwest Wyoming. University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute director Ron Surdam stated that the lithium was found in underground brine. Surdam estimated the located deposit at roughly 228,000 tons in a 25-square-mile area. Extrapolating the data, Surdam said as the uplift covered roughly 2,000 square miles, there could be up to 18 million tons of lithium there, worth up to roughly $500 billion at current market prices.
As a yardstick, the lithium reserves at Silver Peak, Nevada, the largest domestic producer of lithium total 118,000 tons in a 20-square-mile area. The University of Wyoming stated that in a best-case scenario, the Rock Springs Uplift’s 18 million tons of potential lithium reserves is equivalent to roughly 720 years of current global lithium production.
And in case this isn’t enough good news:
Several fortunate factors converge to make the lithium- CO2 storage reservoir concept more than merely feasible. While lithium production from brines requires sodium carbonate (soda ash), transporting soda ash to lithium production facilities is often a significant expense the Rock Springs Uplift CO2 storage site is located 20-30 miles of the world’s largest industrial soda ash supplies, so costs of soda ash delivery would be minor. While magnesium must be removed from brines before they can be used for lithium recovery, the Rock Springs Uplift reservoirs contain much less magnesium than brines at existing, currently profitable lithium mining operations. While brines must be heated and pressurized before lithium can be extracted, the Rock Springs Uplift brines lie so far underground, they are already at a higher pressure and temperature than brines at existing lithium operations, allowing any potential operators largely eliminate the step, further lessening costs. Finally, the treated water resulting from the recovery process could benefit local communities, agriculture and industry.
This is great news, and another blow to the idea that America does not have the natural resources to be energy independent. The potential here for our financial and military security, as well as international relations and employment, is enormous.