CTR drills toward clean lithium and energy
First phase of Hell's Kitchen geothermal brine project begins
Last updated 11/16/2021 at 4:08pm
With the goal of delivering renewable energy to electrical grids by the end of 2023 and near-zero-carbon lithium for General Motors electric vehicles the following year, Controlled Thermal Resources has launched drilling at its Hell's Kitchen geothermal project in Southern California.
"We are very pleased to kick start our drilling program and we are on schedule to deliver the project's first 50MW (megawatts) of baseload renewable power in late 2023 and an estimated 20,000 tonnes (metric tons) of lithium hydroxide in 2024," said CTR CEO Rod Colwell.
Unlike typical lithium sources that require mining or large evaporation ponds, CTR will extract lithium directly from geothermal brines at the Salton Sea about 75 miles northeast of San Diego.
Under a strategy with multifaceted environmental advantages, the Hell's Kitchen operation will use the heat from the geothermal brine to power the extraction of lithium and a plant that will upgrade these salty waters to the lithium hydroxide used in EV batteries. The lithium-less brine will then be pumped back down into the ground from which it was drawn, and the excess zero-carbon electricity will be delivered to the power grid.
In July, GM announced that it is working with CTR, including a multi-million-dollar strategic investment, to develop Hell's Kitchen. This collaboration provides the Detroit automaker with a secure and low-carbon source of lithium for batteries going into the 30 EV models it plans to have on showroom floors by 2025.
"Lithium is critical to battery production today and will only become more important as consumer adoption of EVs increases, and we accelerate towards our all-electric future," said Doug Parks, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain at GM.
Global commodities analyst CRU forecasts that 2021 lithium supplies will fall short of meeting the roughly 450,000 metric tons lithium demand.
This shortfall is only expected to grow as the adoption of EVs drives lithium demand to a million metric tons by 2025, according to the forecasts of battery supply chains analysts at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
By investing in Hell's Kitchen, GM is staking its claim to an important ingredient to its electrified future.
"By securing and localizing the lithium supply chain in the U.S., we're helping ensure our ability to make powerful, affordable, high mileage EVs while also helping to mitigate environmental impact and bring more low-cost lithium to the market as a whole," Parks added.
The fact that the same project that is supplying this critical lithium-ion battery metal for GM EVs is also charging Southern California grids with near-zero carbon electricity is a bonus for the American automaker that aspires to lead "in all aspects of the transformation to a more sustainable future."
To realize the benefits Hell's Kitchen has to offer, CTR has crews drilling down to a depth of around 8,000 feet to reach adequate flows of superheated lithium-rich brines.
"Today, we are employing the best and the brightest talent from the oil, gas, and geothermal industries," Colwell said. "It's quite a thing to see a drill rig, that's usually deployed for extracting fossil fuels, hard at work drilling to deliver clean energy and green lithium."
CTR expects that it will reach plenty of 550–650-degree Fahrenheit waters in the first two wells to produce the 50 MW of steady, clean electricity and 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year.
This accounts for only a fraction of the resource beneath Hell's Kitchen.
It is estimated there are enough geothermal brines at this project to produce 1,100 MW (1.1 gigawatts of baseload renewable electricity – enough to power more than 1 million homes – and 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent – an industry standard for comparing various forms of lithium produced – per year.
CTR has engineered its facilities at Hell's Kitchen to be scaled up to keep pace with the rapidly growing demand for domestic and environmentally responsible lithium hydroxide for the battery and automotive sectors.
"Our modular engineering design optimizes core project infrastructure allowing for faster scale-up of each project stage," said Colwell.
And at each stage, the Southern California project will have the capacity to deliver greater quantities of zero-carbon power to the electrical grid, a baseload that can be charging EVs even after the sun goes down.
"This is the kind of sustainable future we're working hard to achieve," the CTR CEO added.