As the clean tech and electric vehicle industries grow, there is an ever greater demand for lithium – the key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used to store energy in EVs, laptop computers and a host of other devices. At present the US imports around 80 percent of its lithium, but the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute just discovered a massive reserve that could transform the US from a “significant lithium importer to an independent lithium producer.”
The lithium reserve was found at Rock Springs Uplift in southwest Wyoming, where “preliminary analyses of fluid samples… suggest that reservoir brines from a 25-square-mile area of the uplift could contain 228,000 tons of lithium: enough to meet annual U.S. demand,” according to the scientists. That’s almost twice the amount found at reserves in Silver Peak, Nevada, which is currently the largest domestic source of lithium. And the Rock Springs Uplift could contain even more: “In a best-case scenario, the 2,000-square-mile Rock Springs Uplift could harbor up to 18 million tons of lithium, equivalent to about 720 years of current global lithium production.”
The brines at Rock Springs Uplift are, in many respects, optimal for sourcing lithium. According to the UW researchers, the brines have low levels of magnesium (which must be removed before the lithium can be recovered) and the lithium is at a depth that it is already at a high temperature and pressure, which streamlines the removal process. Furthermore, the Rock Springs Uplift sits 30 miles from a soda ash supply – a necessary resource to produce lithium from brines.
Lithium is far from rare—according to Treehugger, Bolivia’s reserves alone contain enough lithium to power 4.8 billion electric cars—but the prospect of a large domestic resource that can be tapped to provide jobs, reduce the environmental impact of imports and lower the costs associated with battery power storage is an encouraging prospect.
Lead Image via Wikimedia Commons