Lithium Beneath the Salton Sea

Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is leading a research project to profile the concentration of lithium in the geothermal field beneath California’s Salton Sea, and to explore the most environmentally benign way to extract it.

Brine from the geothermal field is already pumped to the surface to generate geothermal power, and recirculated back underground. Lithium could be extracted from brine before it is pumped underground. Eleven geothermal plants are now operating in the Salton Sea, which Berkeley Lab describes as “pilot” operations.

Opinion: Will Salton Sea Lithium Dreams Come True? It Will Be Years Before We Know

The underground chemical stew beneath the Salton Sea is believed to hold enough lithium to power millions of cars and homes with green energy. But only if — a big if — enough of that scalding “geothermal brine” can be brought to the surface and the lithium sifted out.

That’s an incredibly complex process. And it’s just about as hard for those who live around the sea to separate reality from dreams when it comes to the impact of all that lithium.

In the best case, we’ve heard over the years, a lithium boom could generate billions of dollars; bring thousands of badly needed jobs for those living near the sea; spur an environmental revival; and give clean energy to a region, the state and beyond.