Report details rich lithium deposits in Imperial County – KPBS

Politicians have been calling the Imperial Valley “Lithium Valley” for a while, and a new report for the U.S. Department of Energy supports that slogan.

The report outlines the scope of Imperial Valley’s rich lithium deposits, which are suspended in scalding hot brine water that flows below the surface near the Salton Sea. Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia represents California’s 36th District, which covers Imperial County. He said the report was good news for the valley and the nation.

“To help achieve our climate goals, our renewable energy goals, and our ability to become self-sufficient and independent from foreign nations when it comes to these critical minerals being developed and deployed,” Garcia said.

According to the report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, there are an estimated 18 million metric tons of raw lithium waiting to be mined in Imperial County. That’s enough to make 375 million electric car batteries.

In 2024, San Diego-based EnergySource Minerals plans to start building a $1 billion plant to extract and process the lithium. CEO Eric Spomer said the DOE report was no surprise to him and he thinks it’s accurate enough.

But he calls the projected numbers “aggressive” and said the report didn’t consider the challenge of extracting the lithium.

“I do think there’s a lot of lithium there. I think there’s a lot of geothermal power there. I think the possibility that it’s all recoverable is a little bit maybe aggressive,” Spomer said.

Spomer said EnergySource Minerals would build a plant that uses a new process called direct lithium extraction. The plant will funnel underground brine water to the surface. There it’ll be pushed through a filter that catches the lithium. The water is then pumped back below to the water table.

EnergySource Minerals CEO Eric Spomer stands amid the workings of the company's geothermal plant in Imperial County, where they say lithium mining will soon begin.  Oct 5, 2022.

EnergySource Minerals CEO Eric Spomer stands amid the workings of the company’s geothermal plant in Imperial County, where they say lithium mining will soon begin.

Spomer said the report described lithium deposits so plentiful that they will be hard to deplete.

“We’ll be depleting some,” he said. “But the reservoir is so big that you won’t see it in the life of a single project like ours.”

The EnergySource plant is expected to operate for 30 years and, the company estimates, extract 20,000 tons of battery-grade lithium each year.

Spomer said the Inflation Reduction Act had incentivized the construction of battery plants in the United States, so Imperial County lithium won’t need to go offshore to be processed.

“We’ve got to give credit to the Inflation Reduction Act for keeping that stuff onshore. I don’t think it was the only incentive, but it was a big one,” Spomer said. “Because it’s given us domestic places to sell the lithium so we don’t have to ship it to Korea or Japan or, heaven forbid, China.”

EnergySource Minerals now has an agreement with Ford Motor Company to supply the company with lithium. Spomer said Ford was planning to build several plants to make lithium batteries.


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