General Motors is investing in a US lithium extraction project that could become the country’s largest by 2024. GM said it will make a “multimillion-dollar investment” in Controlled Thermal Resources’ Hell’s Kitchen geothermal brine project near California’s Salton Sea, and will help to develop the project.
“This will supply a sizeable amount of our lithium needs,” Tim Grewe, GM’s Director of Electrification Strategy, told Reuters, adding that GM is also talking with other US lithium producers.
Reuters reports that the Hell’s Kitchen project could be producing 60,000 tons of lithium per year—enough to supply as many as 6 million EVs—by mid-2024, said CTR Chief Executive Rod Colwell. That would make CTR’s Hell’s Kitchen the largest US producer of the new “white gold.” The company expects to obtain federal environmental permits by the end of next year.
“There’s a great window of opportunity here to develop more lithium in the United States,” Colwell said.
Several companies are developing projects to extract lithium from the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Area, which contains an estimated six million tons of recoverable lithium. In the geothermal process, super-hot lithium-rich brine is pumped from reservoirs 8,000 feet underground, the heat is used to generate electricity, and lithium is extracted from the brine, which is then reinjected underground.
The process is expected to be far more environmentally friendly than the open-pit mines and brine evaporation ponds which are currently the most common methods of lithium production. CTR, which received California state funding last year, says its process will emit 15 times less carbon dioxide than lithium mines in Australia, the world’s largest producer.