U.S. Volcano May Contain Biggest Lithium Source Ever Found

lithium mine; lithium is used for electric car batteries

Right now, America is dangerously reliant on China for lithium, which is used in electric car batteries, medicine, and industrial applications.  But that could change soon, improving our national security and energy independence — if the government doesn’t get in the way.

Chemistry World reports:

A world-beating deposit of lithium along the Nevada–Oregon border could meet surging demand for this metal, according to a new analysis.

An estimated 20 to 40 million tonnes of lithium metal lie within a volcanic crater formed around 16 million years ago. This is notably larger than the lithium deposits found beneath a Bolivian salt flat, previously considered the largest deposit in the world.

‘If you believe their back-of-the-envelope estimation, this is a very, very significant deposit of lithium,’ says Anouk Borst, a geologist at KU Leuven University…‘It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics.’…

An unusual claystone, composed of the mineral illite, contains 1.3% to 2.4% of lithium in the volcanic crater. This is almost double the lithium present in the main lithium-bearing clay mineral, magnesium smectite, which is more common than illite.

Some unusual conditions created what could be a uniquely rich volcanic deposit. The crater – the McDermitt caldera – formed 16.4 million years ago when around 1000km3 of magma exploded outwards. The caldera was filled with erupted products of an alkaline magma rich in sodium and potassium, as well as lithium, chlorine and boron. This quickly cooled to form a finely crystalline glassy volcanic rock, ignimbrite, which weathered to produce lithium-rich particles.

A lake subsequently formed in the crater, persisting for hundreds of thousands of years, with weathered volcanic and surrounding materials forming a clay-rich sediment at its bottom….after the lake had emptied, another bout of volcanism exposed the sediments to a hot, alkaline brine, rich in lithium and potassium….a layer of illite around 40m thick was formed in the lake sediments by this hot brine. The fluid moved upwards along fractures formed as volcanic activity restarted, transforming smectite into illite in the southern part of the crater…The result was a claystone rich in lithium…..

‘There’s been a lot of searching for additional [lithium] deposits,’ Henry adds. ‘The United States has just one small lithium-producing brine operation in Nevada.’

Although lithium is needed for things on the green agenda, such as electric cars, green activists have blocked lithium mining in other places in America like Maine.  The world’s richest known lithium deposit lies deep in the woods of western Maine, worth perhaps $1.5 billion, but Maine’s greens have made it impossible to mine it, reports Time Magazine. It notes that lithium

is desperately needed for the clean energy transition. By 2040, the world will need at least 1.1 million metric tons of lithium annually, more than ten times what it currently produces, according to projections by the International Energy Agency. Should the Maine deposit be mined, it could be worth as much as $1.5 billion, a huge windfall for the Freemans and a boon to … efforts to … to reduce the U.S.’ dependence on China. This is one of the few lithium deposits in the U.S. currently found in hard rock, which means it is higher-quality and faster to process than lithium mined from brine.

“I consider myself an environmentalist,” says Mary, who on a recent rainy visit to the test quarry, was wearing jeans, a sweater, and hiking boots, her white hair pulled into a low ponytail. Most of the country’s critical minerals are mined elsewhere and processed in China, she adds. “I think [the U.S.] should try to be a little bit more self-sufficient.”

Read more: Lithium Is Key to the Electric Vehicle Transition. It’s Also in Short Supply

But like just about everywhere in the U.S. where new mines have been proposed, there is strong opposition here. Maine has some of the strictest mining and water quality standards in the country, and prohibits digging for metals in open pits larger than three acres. There have not been any active metal mines in the state for decades, and no company has applied for a permit since a particularly strict law passed in 2017. As more companies begin prospecting in Maine and searching for sizable nickel, copper, and silver deposits, towns are beginning to pass their own bans on industrial mining.

Rather than working to promote energy independence in areas like lithium, the Biden administration is making America reliant on foreign energy, by making it harder to mine and drill for oil and natural gas. Recently, the Biden administration canceled the seven remaining oil and gas leases in Alaska’s ANWR, even though oil drilling took up only a microscopic fraction of that desolate area, and posed no problem for wildlife.

As the Heritage Foundation notes, Biden took many steps to reduce America’s supply of oil and gas, which will drive up gas prices and make America more reliant on foreign producers:

On Mr. Biden’s first day in office, he issued an executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to put a …. moratorium on the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program. That program directs the Bureau of Land Management to lease certain lands in Alaska for oil and gas extraction.

A few days later, he issued another order “pausing” oil and gas leases on all public lands and waters.

According to the Bureau, Alaska’s Coastal Plain is “some of the most highly prospective land on Alaska’s North Slope.” It contains billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is a king’s ransom of energy wealth, and the law requires that the administration make it available for extraction….The result: Mr. Biden has unlawfully trapped much of America’s vast energy reserves behind a wall of bureaucratic red tape, leaving them unavailable now that the country needs them.

Biden has left America much more vulnerable to foreign oil embargoes, by depleting the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Thanks to his policies, America can’t fully offset any sudden cuts in oil production overseas. Joe Biden has left the reserve partly empty, by releasing oil from it on multiple occasions, such as 50 million barrels in November 2021, 210 million barrels beginning in March 2022. Democrats kept President Trump from expanding the reserve back when oil was dirt cheap. The reserve now is now partly empty, and nowhere near its storage capacity.

In March 2020, President Trump proposed adding oil to the strategic petroleum reserve when oil cost only $14 per barrel (compared to $90 per barrel today), but Democrats blocked him from doing that.

Biden’s releases of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve have been illegal, because they weren’t in response to an emergency, and left the reserve with insufficient oil to respond to a true emergency. Biden’s actions violated the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, notes Mark Robeck, the former deputy general counsel of the Department of Energy. The law prohibits releases from the reserve unless there is a severe domestic supply shortage, an act of sabotage or natural disaster. Biden’s “unlawful release of oil from the SPR threatens national security by depleting” the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Robeck says.

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