Lithium Extraction Research Page

Principal Investigator Arun Raju
Co-Principal Investigator Alfredo Martinez-Morales, Wilfred Elders
Project Sponsor Berkshire Hathaway
Project Period 06/01/2020-06/30/2023

UCR is conducting a Life Cycle Assessment and will assist with process evaluation of an on-site pilot scale demonstration of lithium extraction from geothermal brine from the Salton Sea geothermal field by CalEnergy.

Project Abstract

The purpose of this Agreement is to fund, design, build, and operate an integrated, pre-commercial geothermal brine pre-treatment and lithium recovery system at an existing geothermal power plant in Calipatria, California. The system will demonstrate cost-effective lithium recovery with minimal environmental footprint. Commercially viable recovery of lithium from geothermal brine resources represents a significant technological and financial challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity for California. Even the best sources of brine in the world comprise only 0.1% lithium, with the remaining 99.9% composed of low-value elements, such as sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Traditional lithium recovery from brine resources relies on inefficient and environmentally disastrous evaporation ponds. These evaporation ponds make financial sense only for a few, anomalously high-quality brine resources in South America. As a result, there has been only one new lithium brine project in the past 25 years, despite soaring lithium demand and prices. Effective and environmentally friendly approaches to lithium recovery from brine have not yet been commercialized. The project will deploy a cost-effective process to extract lithium from Salton Sea geothermal brine, while minimizing environmental impact. The proposed project, if successful, will lead to the largest and most environmentally friendly lithium mining opportunity in the world. Moreover, it will lead to the only lithium brine production of significant scale that will not require environmentally harmful evaporation ponds. The system will rely on a modular technology that will enable lithium producers to optimize capital and operating costs, accelerate project startup, and unlock significant new lithium resources, while greatly minimizing environmental burdens and supporting sustainable lithium recovery. UCR will assist the lead applicant, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, in developing a Measurement & Verification plan for the project, conducting a Techno-Economic Analysis of the overall system, and conduct Knowledge/Technology Transfer activities.