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Groundbreaking start for Lithium Valley

Metal Tech News - January 29, 2024

EV executives and dignitaries from the Salton Sea to the White House joined CTR to break ground on the Lithium Valley Campus in SoCal.

In a landmark event that marks the start of a clean supply of lithium to support America's clean energy transition, industry executives and political dignitaries joined Controlled Thermal Resources on the groundbreaking of the Lithium Valley Campus at its Hell's Kitchen geothermal lithium project in the Salton Sea region of Southern California.

"Today, we are building the foundations for a truly sustainable battery materials and clean energy campus that will close the gap between upstream, midstream, and downstream activities and set new standards for battery supply chain integration in the United States," said Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) CEO Rod Colwell.

When it comes to lithium-ion battery supply chains, the upstream portion is where the raw materials are produced, usually mining; the midstream is where the raw materials are upgraded to products that go into the batteries; and the downstream is where the batteries are manufactured for electric vehicles, renewable energy storage, and the uncountable number of electronics no longer tethered to an electrical outlet.

CTR's Lithium Valley Campus represents the first two links in the lithium portion of the rechargeable battery supply chain. It is likely that a third link to the chain will be added as battery manufacturers and automakers line up to set up their own facilities near this emerging source of low-carbon lithium and electricity on the shores of Southern California's Salton Sea.

This includes global automakers such as General Motors and Stellantis, which have invested millions of dollars into supporting CTR as it transforms Imperial County into America's Lithium Valley.

"GM was proud to be first-in on this Lithium Valley project with CTR in 2021, and we're excited to be breaking ground just three years later," said Jeff Morrison, vice president of global purchasing and supply chain at General Motors. "Our investments in this new facility and the surrounding community are helping ensure our ability to make powerful, affordable EVs while also helping to mitigate environmental impact."

Mining clean lithium, electricity

CTR's production of lithium at its Hell's Kitchen project in Lithium Valley is not a standard mining operation – far from it.

Instead of massive earthmoving equipment digging up ore to be crushed and processed to extract the lithium, the "mine" at Hell's Kitchen will simply involve drilling down into reservoirs of geothermal brine enriched with lithium. The thermal energy drawn to the surface will be used to generate zero-carbon electricity that will power the extraction of lithium from the same hot water, as well as upgrading this metal into the lithium hydroxide needed for batteries.

The excess geothermal energy produced by this operation will be fed into the electrical grid, which will help charge the growing number of EVs on Southern California highways and add an extra boost to the ESG credentials of this already responsible source of lithium.

A recent analysis completed by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that the Lithium Valley region hosts enough resources to produce up to 3.4 million metric tons of lithium – enough for the batteries in more than 375 million EVs, which is more than all the vehicles currently on U.S. highways.

The combination of low-carbon lithium and electricity that can be produced from this enormous reservoir, coupled with reviving the Imperial County economy, checks all the boxes on the White House's clean energy strategy. This is why President Biden's Senior Advisor for Clean Energy, John Podesta, and representatives from DOE were on hand for the ceremonial Lithium Valley Campus groundbreaking.

"Revitalizing the Salton Sea Region provides the U.S. an opportunity to supercharge the domestic supply chain for EV batteries and battery storage," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Jeff Marootian. "DOE has committed more than $15 million in research and technology advances that will help ensure that we can access this resource cost-effectively and sustainably and make the U.S. a global leader in lithium production."

Collaborative effort

CTR's Hell's Kitchen project represents only a portion of the overall lithium and geothermal energy resources identified at Lithium Valley, and the company is ramping up production of the resources it has access to in phases.

The Jan. 26 groundbreaking was for a US$1.85 billion lithium and geothermal facility that represents the first of seven project stages slated for the multi-billion-dollar Lithium Valley Campus.

The initial phase of development at Hell's Kitchen will have a capacity of 50 megawatts of baseload renewable electricity and 25,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent, which is enough for roughly 415,000 EVs per year.

By the time the seventh stage is developed, the campus will have the capacity to generate up to 350 megawatts of low-carbon electricity and produce 175,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent, or enough for nearly 3 million EVs per year.

To begin the process of ramping up to this eventual capacity, industry executives and dignitaries from the Salton Sea to the White House joined CTR in breaking ground on the first phase of the Lithium Valley Campus that will make America's clean energy transition a bit cleaner.

"This has been a massive collaborative effort that required a coordinated approach across all levels of government and an incredible amount of support from our community," said Colwell.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct lithium and geothermal production capacity once Lithium Valley Campus reaches its seventh stage of development.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 15 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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