Lithium is a key element in the clean energy supply chain, but reports show the United States currently imports nearly 99% of its lithium supply. To correct this, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a total of $2 million to three universities prototyping innovations that extract lithium from geothermal brines.
“Lithium-rich geothermal brines represent a vast, untapped resource that can potentially be developed into a robust domestic supply while adding to a well-paying workforce,” said Ian Warren, Senior Geoscientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The investment will help secure a cost-effective, domestic supply of lithium, a critical component in energy storage and EV batteries. This ultimately supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals of 50% EV adoption by 2030 and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
“Lithium is an important part of the nation’s energy future and our ability to decarbonize the economy,” said Jeff Marootian, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “We are excited about the innovations these three winners… achieved and look forward to what they do next to advance this technology and help us realize a secure domestic source of this critical mineral.”
A geothermal brine, or the hot water used to produce geothermal energy, often has a high concentration of minerals, such as lithium, salt, and zinc. By using direct lithium extraction (DLE) on geothermal brines, the DOE hopes to bolster the domestic supply of lithium and generate clean electricity from geothermal sources.
Unlike open pit mine or salt flat extraction methods, which can lead to land destruction, potential contamination, and high water consumption, DLE utilizes the land that is already in use by power plants. The goal of DLE is to extract the lithium before the brine is pumped back underground, where it can recharge the geothermal reservoir.
The three university award winners include:
- University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - $1,000,000
- University of Virginia - $500,000
- George Washington University - $500,000
The awards are provided by the Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize, funded by the Geothermal Technologies Office, and administered by the NREL.