by Adrianna Nine
(Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)Just in time for a global push to move away from fossil fuels, geologists and energy policy experts are recognizing geothermal plants’ ability to provide multiple forms of clean energy. Among them is lithium-an essential element of the batteries that power electric cars, energy storage systems, handheld electronics, and household appliances, among other things we’ve come to love and rely on.
Gas prices are skyrocketing and international tensions are rising, and as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues, many are beginning to understand the increasingly dire need to reduce the world’s reliance on imports like fossil fuels. While solar and wind energy are often environmental activists’ top priorities, geothermal plants have proven themselves the underdog of the clean energy debacle. Unlike solar and wind, geothermal plants can produce a constant stream of energy; now, they may also be able to offer a level of mineral security to the US and its allies that other clean energy plants cannot.
Geothermal plants produce geothermal energy right at the site, but lithium, like fuel, has historically been a major US import. (Much of the nation’s supply comes from China, Russia, Argentina, and Chile, with only one lithium plant currently in operation in the US.) If the US truly wants to back away from its reliance on other countries for energy, it will be required to seek those resources from within, and geothermal plants may be able to help.
We seem to be in luck, though: inland California’s Salton Sea has been found to contain massive amounts of lithium. The Salton Sea’s 11 existing geothermal plants already do the work of extracting brine from deep underground and boiling it to produce steam. The leftover liquid concentrate is simply a byproduct of the geothermal energy production process. As it turns out, remaining brines from the Salton Sea contain high concentrations of dissolved solids that may be able to supply more lithium than the US…