Lithium Mining Could Benefit California
Climate change has required Americans to examine the impact gas-powered vehicles make on the environment. With an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom directing that by 2035 all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission, shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) will require a lot of battery power. The future seems to rely on the lithium market. One place that could be a major source for this raw material is the state’s largest lake, the Salton Sea.
Recent funding has allowed The Species Conservation Habitat Project to move forward to implement dust suppression and build wetlands habitats across 40,000 acres of exposed Salton Sea Playa.
While some have wondered if these efforts could be enough to restore the former resort area back to what it once was in the 1950s and ‘60s, the state’s leaders now also have an additional vision for the region. “Right here in Southern California, we have the enormous opportunity to be a competitive player in the world lithium market,” California Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia said in May during the state legislature’s first select committee hearing on cultivating a local lithium economy.
Governor Newsom in October 2020 signed Assembly Bill 1657, allowing for the creation of the Lithium Valley Commission, a Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California. It is comprised of geothermal and lithium industry personnel, Imperial and Riverside elected officials, government experts, and environmental/social advocates who must submit a report to the Legislature documenting findings and recommendations on or before October 1, 2022.
The next Gold Rush?
The Golden State doesn’t have that moniker by accident. The rush to mine that precious element began in January 1848. Today, the demand is growing for lithium, a soft, silvery-white alkali metal. Battery manufacturers require about 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) per year and the total global demand is expected to reach 1.79 million metric tons by 2030.
A typical EV has approximately 22 pounds of lithium in it and lithium batteries are also used to store wind and solar energy.
Currently, 95% of the world’s lithium comes from Argentina, Australia, Chile, and China. The only current domestic supply is mined in Nevada. There are some estimates that indicate the Salton Sea is capable of producing 600 kilotons of lithium per year. Assemblyman Garcia says the Salton Sea has the potential to meet 40% of global lithium demand.