Salton Sea powering EV future with lithium
With the push for more electric vehicles, the gurgling ground underneath a faded Hollywood hideaway could hold the key. Mike Valerio takes us to California’s Salton Sea.
IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (CNN) - Lithium, a crucial metal set to be extracted from underneath California's Salton Sea.
Lithium is key for electric car batteries and as demand skyrockets for electric vehicles (EV), there's hope a new lithium rush could save the dying Salton Sea, and super-charge America's EV industry.
"The Salton Riviera, beside the blue Salton Sea, is a place for you to take charge of your future."
A Hollywood hideaway three hours from Los Angeles, where Sinatra and the Rat Pack played.
But now, after decades of drought and farm runoff, raising the water's salinity.
The Salton Sea today is surrounded by dust and decay.
"Hope is that the chronic unemployment and poverty down here can be alleviated by the development of Lithium Valley," stated Professor Michael McKibben, University of California, Riverside.
The gurgling and sputtering from underground gasses potentially heralds a new beginning.
A transformation, from languishing vistas to "Lithium Valley."
"These structures are called mud volcanoes when they’re above ground," stated Professor McKibben.
Geologist Michael McKibben explained, deep underneath us, where two tectonic plates are pushing past each other, magma heats groundwater and within that salty water, called brine minerals dissolve.
Including, the valuable metal, lithium.
"This is the gold right here?" asked Reporter Mike Valerio.
"Yes, that’s the gold," stated Mike Garska, Senior Process Engineer, EnergySource Minerals.
Solid lithium is essential for electric vehicle batteries. Right now, most lithium battery production is in China.
But experts said the Salton Sea region could provide enough lithium to move the U.S. toward lithium independence, supercharging our EV transition.
"Our intention is to be in construction this year and be in operation in 2025," stated Eric Spomer, CEO, EnergySource Minerals.
Eric Spomer is CEO of EnergySource Minerals, one of three companies planning to draw lithium from the underground hot brine.
“Yeah, this is where the high-temperature, high-pressure fluids, coming into our high-pressure separator," said Daniel Alexander, Owner’s Representative, Hudson Ranch Power.
Boiling brine already fuels 11 Salton Sea geothermal power plants.
Among them, is Hudson Ranch 1.
The brine's steam spins its turbines and that creates clean energy.
The plan now is to extract dissolved lithium from the same brine.
“We developed a technology that is incredibly efficient at extracting lithium from brine and rejecting impurities," said Spomer.
One of the hopes with lithium extraction is that it could bring vitality back to the Salton Sea, and so much of what we’re looking at, all around us. Fewer than ten years ago, this, was under water. And people who live in and around the area hope that with more money into the economy, at least a fraction of the Salton Sea can be restored, to its former glory," said Mike Valerio.
Simply put, Ruben Hernandez, owner of the nearby buckshot deli and diner hopes a lithium boom leads to a boom in customers.
And, a flood of tax revenue for a better future.
"My grandchildren will grow up here," said Ruben Hernandez, Owner, Buckshot Deli & Diner.
I hope they'll have good services and a good quality of life.
That is, if lithium leads to a second miracle in the desert.
One for our time and for the road ahead.