Experts Look to Lithium Extraction in the Race to Save California’s Salton Sea

 

Developing lithium from the Salton Sea in California can help anchor a multi-billion dollar domestic electric vehicle battery supply chain and inject thousands of jobs and billions of dollars into California’s Imperial Valley, the state’s most economically disadvantaged regions. That’s the finding of Building Lithium Valley: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead for Developing California’s Battery Manufacturing Ecosystem, a report from New Energy Nexus released October 6.

The new report details how recovering lithium – the foundation mineral for battery production – as a byproduct from the Salton Sea geothermal resource area can kickstart a clean economic recovery for California in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, while helping ensure the state grows its own economy and meeting the recent executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.

“The world is in a race to dominate the electric vehicle market – the Europeans have made their Battery Alliance a priority and the Chinese are chomping at the bit,” said Danny Kennedy, CEO of New Energy Nexus in the news report. “But America is sitting on an enormous competitive advantage with the amount of lithium in Southern California. Through meaningful engagement with the local community, building out the value chain downstream and around Lithium Valley can drive a just transition for the region, while catapulting the U.S. into a leadership position in the 21st Century economy.”

Experts estimate that the known lithium resource in the Salton Sea can meet more than one-third of today’s global lithium demand – a market that is set to grow dramatically. Global electric vehicle market growth is projected to rise from 1.7 million vehicles in 2020 to 26 million vehicles in 2030 and 54 million by 2040 at least, the report said. With Governor Newsom’s Executive Order, California joined 15 countries with commitments to move to 100 percent zero emission vehicles.

Establishing a full battery manufacturing ecosystem, anchored in Lithium Valley, will not only support the transition to electrified transportation, but advance progress toward California’s climate goals, and serve as a vital source for critical minerals essential to economic and national security, the report said.

The new 2035 deadline for California’s transportation electrification amplifies the need to move immediately to rapid scaling of Lithium recovery operations to the manufacturing of battery materials, battery cells and vehicles. Battery manufacturers can also serve the accelerating stationary energy storage market, which uses batteries to support the power grid, per the report.

Recognizing the unique opportunity Lithium Valley presents, the California State Legislature passed AB 1657 and on 29 September, Governor Newsom signed into law the bill which will establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California. 

Residents in the Imperial Valley are dealing with urgent ecological and environmental emergencies. The report highlights that the development of a Lithium Valley could lead to community remediation funding to address respiratory health of nearby communities dealing with some of the worst pollution and Covid-19 impacts statewide, as well as protect the habitat of local fish and birds suffering due to the drying of the Salton Sea.

“In the wake of the pandemic and the ongoing movement for racial justice and equity, we must redress our country’s many examples of environmental and economic inequality,” said Danny Kennedy. “By pursuing a Lithium strategy, with the communities from around the Salton Sea at the table not on the menu, they can benefit from good jobs, opportunities and clean air while we can all get climate solutions and electrified transportation. This should be a win-win of historic proportions that can leave Imperial County and California better off for decades to come.”

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