The race to provide the worldwide auto trade with sufficient lithium to gas the switchover from gasoline to lithium-ion EV batteries is churning into excessive gear. The environmental prices may be excessive until the lithium provide chain focuses on lower-impact extraction applied sciences. Stress from automakers would assist steer lithium stakeholders in a extra sustainable course, and Stellantis has simply upped the ante with a $100 million funding within the Hell’s Kitchen lithium challenge.
Geothermal Brine For The US Lithium Provide Chain
Hell’s Kitchen is the slightly poetic identify for a geothermal brine challenge situated on the Salton Sea in California.
The challenge got here throughout the CleanTechnica radar in 2021, after we observed that the US Division of Vitality has been eyeballing geothermal brine extraction as a strategy to stimulate the US geothermal trade whereas pumping up the nation’s home lithium provide chain.
That’s extra sophisticated than it could appear. Geothermal brine has been described as a “wealthy stew” of dissolved supplies, of which lithium is just one. The problem is to develop a cheap strategy to separate lithium from a stew that isn’t solely wealthy but in addition sizzling.
“To visualise how advanced and delicate the extraction course of is, think about you’re flipping for baseball playing cards, besides all your playing cards are caught collectively and they’re on hearth,” we noticed.
How It Began…
The corporate Managed Thermal Sources (CTR) is the developer behind the Hell’s Kitchen challenge. The challenge launched within the fall of 2021 with a comparatively modest footprint and was billed as “the world’s first, totally built-in, new geothermal-lithium facility to begin building.”
The Salton Sea already hosted 450 megawatts’ price of geothermal power technology by 2021. Preliminary plans for the Hell’s Kitchen plant included one other 50 megawatts at temperatures starting from 550–650 levels Fahrenheit.
On the manufacturing aspect, CTR anticipated about metric 20,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per yr, together with the potential to provide potassium, zinc, and different substances.
…How It’s Going
Within the two years since then, CTR’s lithium provide challenge has remodeled right into a soup-to-nuts EV battery ecosystem.
“We are not just ‘suppliers of lithium’. We’re working with our strategic companions to ship options that help the rising battery provide chain,” CTR famous in a Q3 replace on its web site.
The replace describes two primary tasks on the web site. One entails the potential to co-locate a cathode lively supplies facility on the Hell’s Kitchen web site. “We all know this removes transport dangers and prices, lowers C02 emissions, and removes substantial CAPEX and OPEX from bagging, logistics, and de-bagging operations,” CTR noticed.
The opposite challenge carries ahead the thought of separating different supplies from geothermal brine along with boosting the lithium provide. Particularly, CTR estimates that it might get better 5 occasions the quantity of manganese than lithium from its geothermal brine. The corporate anticipates it could actually obtain these outcomes with out crimping its lithium manufacturing timeline. They count on to conduct assessments on “stay” brine someday this yr to discover the topic additional.
Observe The Cash
Stellantis, for one, has noticed a chance. On August 17 the corporate introduced a $100 million-plus investment to assist develop the lithium provide challenge.
Neglect the preliminary projection of 20,000 metric tonnes of lithium carbonate per yr. As described by Stellantis, Hell’s Kitchen is “the world’s largest geothermal lithium challenge with a complete useful resource capability to provide as much as 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equal.”
“Moreover, the businesses expanded the preliminary provide settlement, which now requires CTR to provide as much as 65,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium hydroxide monohydrate (LHM) every year over a 10-year contract time period,” Stellantis notes. “This new settlement incorporates the unique lithium provide settlement signed by each corporations in June 2022 for as much as 25,000 metric tons of LHM per yr.”
If all goes based on plan, Hell’s Kitchen will start producing LHM for Stellantis in 2027.
The plan might additionally contain Common Motors, which reportedly put up some massive bucks again in 2021 to nail down first dibs on the Hells’ Kitchen lithium provide — until they dropped the thought someplace alongside the best way. CleanTechnica is reaching out to CRT for an replace on that.
A Extra Sustainable Lithium Provide, That Is
The environmental and human rights issues bedeviling the worldwide lithium provide chain have been effectively documented, together with impacts associated to power consumption, water sources, open pit mining and evaporation lagoons.
The US has an opportunity to get it proper, primarily as a result of little or no lithium mining is happening right here nowadays. The one lithium mine presently working within the US is the Silver Peak mine in Nevada, which dates again to the Nineteen Sixties.
Now the strain is on to extend the home provide of lithium to satisfy the rising demand for electrical automobiles, and conflicts are already arising. One instance is the brand new Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, the place work is beneath means regardless of livid pushback from native tribes and ranchers in addition to environmentalists.
NASA has additionally weighed in on the Biden administration’s plans to lease federal lands to spice up the home lithium provide chain.
“An historical Nevada lakebed beckons as a vast source of the coveted element wanted to provide cleaner electrical power and battle world warming,” the Related Press reported in June. “However NASA says the identical web site — flat as a tabletop and undisturbed like none different within the Western Hemisphere — is indispensable for calibrating the razor-sharp measurements of lots of of satellites orbiting overhead.”
Geothermal brine tasks may also contain land use conflicts, however to not the identical extent concerned in open pit mining. Although plans to co-locate different amenities on the Hell’s Kitchen campus will broaden its footprint significantly, the geothermal power plant and lithium provide operation solely takes up about 50 acres. In distinction, the Silver Peak lithium mine spans 13,000 acres. The Thacker Move challenge entails 6,000 acres of mining activity over a parcel of public land spanning 9 sq. miles, and a proposed lithium mine in North Carolina will embrace 4 open pits protecting 1,500 acres.
As well as, the Hell’s Kitchen system is designed to run on renewable power with out the necessity for evaporation lagoons. The spent brine is returned underground.
Recovering lithium from spent EV batteries might additionally assist alleviate a few of these points. Amongst different current battery recycling strikes, final fall GM put up a stake in Series A financing for the recycling agency Lithion. Stellantis has additionally firmed up its end-of-life strategy beneath a three way partnership with Galloo, introduced in June.
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Picture: Hell’s Kitchen geothermal energy plant and lithium provide facility with proposed EV battery operations, courtesy of CTR.
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