22 Feb 2022

US Berkeley to Lead Research on Salton Sea Geothermal Lithium

22 Feb 2022  by   

Simplified overview of lithium extraction from geothermal brine (Credit: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab)

The US DOE-funded research, led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will characterize the geothermal lithium resource in California's Salton Sea.

The US Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will be leading a joint study along with researchers from the University of California at Riverside and Geologica Geothermal Group to quantify and characterize the lithium resources in the geothermal reservoir of Salton Sea in California. This project will be funded with USD 1.2 million from the Geothermal Technologies Office of the US Department of Energy.

With 11 operational geothermal power stations, the capacity of the Salton Sea region to support large-scale geothermal power generation has already been established for decades. However, interest in the potential lithium extraction from geothermal brine is a fairly recent development. Establishing a domestic lithium supply has become a more pressing matter as the automobile industry transitions to electric vehicles.

“Normally the cooled fluid would simply be reinjected underground, but the idea is to first extract the lithium from the brine before injecting it back,” Berkeley Lab said.

The joint study will electron microscopes and other analytical tools to examine the lithium sources in the Salton Sea. Among the objectives of the study is to determine whether the subsurface formation can recharge the brine with lithium after extraction, and whether lithium extraction will have any potential environmental impacts.

“This project will provide critical insights about the subsurface that will help us secure a domestic lithium supply chain using the most environmentally responsible, data-driven pathway,” said Geothermal Technologies Office Program Manager for Hydrothermal Resources Alexis McKittrick.

Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) is one of the major players in this field, having initiated a drilling program in the Hell’s Kitchen geothermal project in late 2021, as we reported. In the same year, CTR established a strategic partnership to supply battery-grade lithium to General Motors (GM). Another company, EnergySource Minerals, had also been granted a Conditional Use Permit for Project ATLiS to extract lithium from the brine of the John L. Featherstone geothermal plant.


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