Salton Sea Geothermal Lithium Recovery Demonstration Project

Pre-commercial scale demonstration of lithium recovery from geothermal brine

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BHER Minerals, LLC

Recipient

Calipatria, CA

Recipient Location

40th

Senate District

56th

Assembly District

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$176,544

Amount Spent

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Active

Project Status

Project Update

The project, which had its kickoff on August 12, 2020, completed some identified preliminary activities and is on schedule. This included: bench testing of system components and process simulation; electrical load study and foundation design; geotechnical assessment of the site; preliminary computational fluid dynamic modeling of the contractor design; and completion of preliminary facility layout, including piping and instrumentation diagrams.

The Issue

Recent estimates indicate that about six million metric tons of lithium could be recovered from presently available geothermal resources near Salton Sea, California. This resource could be used to achieve key statutory energy goals, including increasing the value of geothermal resources to California's electricity system. Yet, the major challenges for lithium production in this region relate to the harsh chemistry of the brine and the difficulty of developing a low-cost and highly-selective process for lithium recovery, preventing third-party developers from making significant investments in lithium recovery efforts.

Project Innovation

BHER Minerals, LLC (BHERM) -- a wholly owned indirect subsidiary of BHE Renewables, LLC (BHER) -- will design, build, and demonstrate an integrated, 1/10-commercial-scale, geothermal brine pre-treatment and lithium recovery system at its existing geothermal power facilities in Calipatria, California, an area categorized as both a low-income and a disadvantaged community. The lithium recovery system will demonstrate on a pre-commercial scale the recovery of approximately 85% of the lithium in geothermal brine at a cost of less than $4,000 per metric ton. The demonstration plant will consist of brine pretreatment to remove heavy metals and onsite conversion of the initial lithium chloride solution into battery-grade lithium carbonate. Demonstrated technology could positively shift the economics of geothermal power production in California by enabling the low-cost production of a co-product with vast commercial value. The opportunity to share the cost of brine production with a lithium recovery business could open the doors to the development of new geothermal power plants, supporting achievement of the state's energy goals.

Project Goals

Design, build, and demonstrate all operational steps of lithium recovery from geothermal brine at a geothermal power plant
Improve the economic productivity and flexibility of existing geothermal power plant facilities
Process at least 100 gallons of brine per minute
Demonstrate the conversion of samples of extracted lithium chloride to battery-grade lithium carbonate

Project Benefits

This Agreement will lead to technological advancement and breakthroughs to overcome barriers to the achievement of the State of California's statutory energy goals by demonstrating an advanced lithium recovery technology. The closed-loop demonstration system would become the world's most environmentally friendly lithium recovery plant and one of the most cost-effective. Thus, it could serve as the foundation for numerous new commercial-scale development projects seeking to take advantage of the ability to share the cost of brine management with geothermal power producers. This, in turn, could lead to the construction of a regional network of lithium recovery facilities that could produce as much as 300,000 metric tons per annum of battery-grade lithium carbonate equivalent, making the Imperial Valley the foremost lithium production center in the world.

Consumer Appeal

Consumer Appeal

OEMs and battery manufacturers can improve the appeal of their products to consumers by “greening” their supply chains and procuring affordable, US-sourced lithium produced in an environmentally sound manner.

Lower Costs

Affordability

By producing high-value lithium compounds, existing geothermal power plants will be able to reduce the cost of power generation by as much as 35 percent, which would enable them to stabilize or reduce ratepayer costs.

Economic Development

Economic Development

Full commercialization could lead to 35 new regional geothermal power plants, thereby driving ~ $1.8 billion in local economic activity, supporting ~230 workers during construction and ~400 new permanent, good full-time jobs.

Environmental & Public Health

Environmental Sustainability

The system has a small footprint and reduces environmental concerns through greatly reduced water usage, reliance on renewable electricity, and, once commercialized, the annual reduction of up to 4,473,889 MT CO2e per year.

Greater Reliability

Reliability

Cost-effective production of lithium carbonate from geothermal brine could support development of affordable, lithium-ion-based grid storage.

Key Project Members

Project Member

Eric Besseling

Vice President Business Development, BHE Renewable

Contact the Team

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