News & media

Lithium will fuel the clean energy boom. This company may have a breakthrough

By Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times | October 14, 2019



Gaze across the Salton Sea, a sparkling oasis in the California desert, and you’ll see white plumes of steam rising against the hazy Chocolate Mountains.

The steam comes from 11 geothermal power plants, nestled between the accidental lake and the verdant farm fields of the Imperial Valley. The area has been churning out climate-friendly geothermal energy since the 1980s, long before solar panels and wind turbines became cheap and abundant.

The geothermal plants could soon contribute to California’s war against climate change in a new way: by producing lithium, a key ingredient in batteries that power electric cars and store solar power for use after dark.

Companies have tried for decades to extract lithium from the super-heated underground fluid used for energy generation at the southern end of the Salton Sea, home to one of the world’s most powerful natural geothermal hot spots. Just a few years ago, a technology start-up called Simbol Materials went bust shortly after Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. offered to buy it for $325 million.

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