The California Energy Commission (CEC) has awarded $7.8 to two lithium recovery projects in the Salton Sea region, where high concentrations of the soft metal are found dissolved in the brine produced by geothermal hotspots.
The Salton Sea Known Geothermal Area contains an estimated six million tons of recoverable lithium. However, there are significant barriers to exploiting this resource—the challenges have to do with the harsh chemistry of the brine and the difficultly of developing a low-cost and selective process for lithium recovery.
In March, an Oakland-based startup, Lilac Solutions, which believes it has found a promising process to profitably extract lithium in the area, announced a $20-million funding round.
Now the CEC has funded two separate lithium recovery projects.
The agency has awarded $6 million to BHER Minerals for a demonstration project at an existing geothermal power facility in Calipatria, where the company hopes to cost-effectively process at least 100 gallons of geothermal brine per minute to produce battery-grade lithium carbonate.
The project team will test a novel approach to processing the challenging brine chemistry. It hopes to develop a pre-treatment process that will prepare the incoming brine for lithium removal, and to demonstrate a system capable of long-term, economic recovery of lithium from pre-processed brine.
The second grant, $1.8 million, will go to Palo Alto-based Materials Research for a pilot-scale demonstration project that will use a newly developed sorbent material to extract lithium from brine, and a separate process to form high-purity lithium carbonate, which has additional applications in industry and medicine.