Scientists in the Energy Geosciences Division are contributing to research sponsored by the DOE Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) investigating the potential extraction of lithium, rare earth elements, and other critical minerals that are dissolved constituents of hot geothermal brines that are used to produce electricity. Far more information is currently needed, for instance, about the science of extracting lithium–the key ingredient in most batteries used to power electric cars and buildings–from geothermal brines, especially those found at the Salton Sea geothermal field in southern California.
Berkeley Lab Environmental Staff Engineer William Stringfellow and Pat Dobson, the laboratory’s Geothermal Systems Program Lead, have been reviewing technology and processes for the recovery and purification of lithium from geothermal brines for GTO, with the objective of enabling the integration of critical materials recovery with geothermal energy production.
Earlier this month, the researchers presented a paper they authored that provides a review of Li extraction technologies that could be applied to geothermal brines to the 46th annual Stanford Geothermal Workshop. Dobson is now preparing to present information about a Berkeley Lab report summarizing the results of a retrospective analysis of GTO-funded studies focused on resource assessment and extraction techniques of critical materials in geothermal brines at a virtual annual meeting of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration on March 1-5.
“The potential that exists to source lithium domestically here in the U.S. is crucial to the nation in meeting its renewable energy goals, decarbonizing the transportation sector, as well as creating a domestic supply chain for this critical material,” said Dobson. “Now that large unconventional lithium resources have been identified in the U.S., the key challenge is to develop the basic science of extracting this critical mineral from such resources in a cost-competitive and environmentally friendly manner. The retrospective research being gathered for GTO is invaluable to these efforts.”