[Sept. 13, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]
Open pit lithium mine in China. (Credit: Creative Commons)
In a significant discovery that could reshape the dynamics of the electric vehicle (EV) industry, lithium reserves, possibly the world’s largest, have been found in a volcanic crater straddling the Nevada-Oregon border. Preliminary research suggests it may contain as much as an astonishing 40 million metric tons of the precious metal, which is vital for battery production.
The reserves, located in the McDermitt Caldera, are estimated to contain 20 million to 40 million metric tons of lithium. To put this in perspective, this could almost double the previous record, an impressive 23 million metric tons found beneath a Bolivian salt flat last summer, as published in the journal Science Advances.
This discovery not only strengthens the United States’ position on the global lithium stage but also elevates it dramatically. Previously, the US was estimated to have meager reserves of only about 1 million metric tons. Therefore the recent discovery could increase the national reserves by a staggering 4000%.
Anouk Borst, a renowned geologist from Belgium, commented on the huge nature of this discovery, noting its potential implications for the global market. “This could change the dynamics of lithium globally in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics,” he told Chemistry World.
Elaborating on the national implications, Borst commented, “The US will have its own supply of lithium, and the industry will be less afraid about supply shortages.”
Lithium, colloquially known as “white gold,” has been the centerpiece of the rapidly growing EV industry. With increasing demand for EVs, manufacturers are worried about a possible shortage in the near future. Forecasters have even warned that supply will not be able to meet increasing demand by 2025. This has ignited an international race, with China, the US and several South American countries competing to locate enough deposits to secure their position in the growing EV market. market.
GM’s Chief Financial Officer Paul A. Jacobson reiterated these concerns during an investor meeting in June. “We have to partner with people who can get us lithium in the form that we need,” Jacobson stressed. He further revealed that General Motors has strategically invested in mining operations to mitigate potential shortages.
Lithium reserves recently discovered in America’s McDermitt Caldera may be the world’s largest reserves, containing an astonishing 40 million metric tons of the precious metal. (Credit: Science Advances)
The basis of this enthusiasm for lithium is the US administration’s tough stance on clean energy. President Biden’s recent policy agenda has an ambitious goal of including EVs in nearly 50% of all vehicles sold by 2030. Further strengthening this commitment, the administration has proposed a massive investment of $7.5 billion in EV charging infrastructure across the country.
Co-author of the groundbreaking study, Thomas Benson, a geologist with Lithium Americas Corporation, optimistically estimates that mining operations could begin at the McDermitt Caldera site by 2026.
Map showing the types and relative sizes of global lithium resources. Current production is primarily spodumene from pegmatites in Australia (47%) and salt flats in Chile (30%), China (12%), and Argentina (5%). (Credit: Science Advances)
Providing insight into the geology behind the deposit, researchers from Lithium Americas Corporation, GNS Science and Oregon State University have explained the unique conditions that led to the formation of this massive reservoir. About 16 million years ago, explosive volcanic activity in the McDermitt Caldera created ideal conditions for the formation of lithium-rich particles, resulting in this rich deposit.
However, while the discovery has been celebrated by many, it has also rekindled long-standing environmental and cultural concerns. Nevada, despite its lithium-rich landscape, has often been the center of controversy over its mining activities. Conservationists, Indigenous American groups, and even the space agency NASA have expressed concerns about uncontrolled mining.
In situ Shrimp-RG analysis of Li-Illite at Thakar Pass. Concentrations of Li and Rb from three drillhole samples at Thacker Pass compared to the composition of Thacker Pass smectite. The linear best-fit regression line through the illite data (black line) has a slope of 10.8 (equivalent to a Li:Rb molar ratio of 120:1) and intersects the range of soil Li and Rb concentrations from Thacker Pass. . smectite. (Credit: Science Advances)
Adjacent to the McDermit Caldera site is the Thacker Pass mine, which has been embroiled in controversy, including opposition from the Native Paiute tribe. Legal challenges have also emerged over the past three years, slowing mining activities.
In its effort to preserve undisturbed areas important for scientific research, NASA expressed concern about mining in the Railroad Valley tabletop flat. The pristine nature of this location is important for calibrating measurements from hundreds of satellites currently orbiting Earth.
As this discovery potentially reshapes the lithium market, the competing interests of economic growth, environmental protection, and cultural preservation will continue to shape the narrative in the years to come.
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