Salton Sea Geothermal Lithium Recovery Demonstration Project
Pre-commercial scale demonstration of lithium recovery from geothermal brine
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cost-effective production of lithium carbonate from geothermal brine could support development of affordable, lithium-ion-based grid storage.