Low-temp geothermal technologies are meeting a growing demand for strategic materials in clean manufacturing. Here, lithium is extracted from geothermal brines in California.
Consumer uses of lithium batteries have soared over the last decade, powering everything from electric cars to tablets to cell phones. In fact, minerals like lithium, manganese, and zinc supply the raw materials for cathodes, glass, ceramics, lubricants, and many other products. Many minerals also have critical value for advanced manufacturing technologies. As demand grows in this burgeoning market, domestic supply is a growing concern. Global demand for lithium carbonate is expected to exceed 250,000 tons by 2017 -- a 60% increase over current usage, according to thinkgeoenergy. Through Recovery Act funding, GTO partnered with California's Simbol materials to develop technologies that extract these strategic materials from geothermal brines at a mining operation -- a first-of-its-kind achievement. Simbol estimates that the mineral-rich Salton Sea region of southern California could supply enough lithium to produce up to half a million vehicle batteries per year. DOE support enabled the company to build the first demonstration facility there and mine lithium, manganese, and zinc from geothermal brines. As Simbol's Salton Sea plant creates an additional revenue stream from geothermal power production in the near-term, this model is ramping up for commercial-scale mineral recovery by spring 2014 and will be replicable for mineral extraction at other sites going forward. A targeted GTO initiative focuses on strategic mineral extraction as a path to optimize the value stream of low-to- moderate-temperature resources, which reduces both costs and emissions.