Magmatic uprising and a lithium takeover
Metal Tech News - September 1, 2023
Last updated 9/7/2023 at 7am
Results in largest known reserves of lithium on Earth being deposited in volcanic caldera spanning Nevada-Oregon border.
The remnants of an ancient volcano spanning the Nevada-Oregon border likely holds the world's largest accumulation of the lithium for the batteries needed for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, according to a scientific paper published by a trio of volcanologists and geologists.
This roughly 25- by 30-mile basin known as the McDermitt Caldera has long been known as a rich source of lithium, but this lightest of all the metals was not in high demand until the push for low-carbon energy and transportation.
Today, the clean energy transition has ignited a global rush to find enough lithium to meet the roughly 1-million-metric-ton-per-year demand for this critical battery metal by 2040, which is eight times more than was produced globally last year, according to figures provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Two companies have already outlined deposits of lithium within McDermitt Caldera that could help fill this demand – Lithium Americas Corp. has outlined another 3 million metric tons of lithium at its Thacker Pass project at the south end of the caldera, and Jindalee Resources Ltd. has outlined another 2.1 million metric tons at its McDermitt lithium project on the Oregon side of the border at the north end.
It is estimated that the entire caldera contains at least 20 million metric tons of lithium and could be as high as 120 million metric tons. At the low end, that is $400 billion worth of lithium, and this comes to a whopping $2.4 trillion at the upper end.
Even at the very low end of this estimation, McDermitt Caldera would be roughly twice as large as Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, previously considered the largest lithium deposit on Earth.
Thomas Benson, a volcanologist and vice president of global exploration at Lithium Americas Corp., Matthew Coble, a geoscientist as GNS Science, and John Dilles, a geologist and professor at Oregon State University, have published a paper in Science Advances
The trio of geoscientists theorize that following a volcanic eruption about 16 million year ago hydrothermal fluids became enriched with lithium and other minerals, and magma deep unground pushed its way to the center of what is now the caldera, leading to the formation of the Montana Mountains. This magmatic uprising created faults, fissures and fractures that allowed the lithium-rich fluids to seep up toward the surface and transform much of the clay mineral smectite into illite, an even more lithium enriched clay mineral found along the southern rim of the basin.
Benson, Coble, and Dilles conclude that this is why lithium is so abundant at and around Thacker Pass.
"The Li-rich illite zone has only been identified in the southern half of the caldera at Thacker Pass and immediately to the north in the Montana Mountains," the trio wrote in their scientific paper.
The same lithium-rich clay mineral, however, is not found further north in Oregon. While the smectite found throughout the caldera is enriched in lithium, the concentrations are much lower than in the illite such as is found at Thacker Pass.
Having outlined reserves in the illite at Thacker Pass, Lithium Americas plans to start construction of a mine at this Nevada project this year that will extract enough lithium from these enriched clay minerals for 40 million EVs over 40 years of mining slated to begin in 2026.
The investigation by Benson, Coble, and Dilles will provide geologists with clues as to where to look for other high-grade deposits of lithium within McDermitt Caldera – home to the largest accumulation of lithium identified on Earth so far.