If the US would like to stop importing 80 percent of its lithium, mainly from China, and if Bolivian sources don't come through, it looks like there is a big domestic opportunity: Wyoming. Having an ample domestic supply would bring down the price of lithium, which could mean electric vehicles would become more cost competitive.
Researchers at the University of Wyoming have found quite a lot of lithium in Rock Springs Uplift, a geological section of southwest Wyoming. Data collection is early, but so far it suggests that brines within a 25-square mile area could offer 228,000 tons of lithium. It's nearly twice as large as the nation's current largest lithium producer, which is located in Silver Peak, NV.
The university's discovery highlights several advantages of tapping Wyoming's lithium reserves. For one, Rock Springs Uplift's storage site is located within 30 miles of the world's largest industrial soda ash supplies. Production of lithium from brines requires soda ash, and being that close to such a large supply reduce delivery costs. Another factor is that a process that adds to lithium cost is removing its magnesium, which needs to be done before lithium can power batteries. The brines from Rock Springs Uplift contain much less magnesium than brines at other existing mining operations. The third positive aspect deals with extraction through heat and pressure. Rock Springs Uplift brines are so far underground that they're already at a higher pressure and temperature than brines at existing lithium operations. These natural conditions eliminate a step in the process, bringing costs down even more.
All this makes us think that lithium could become a factor in an emerging domestic energy system, in some ways like the current boom in natural gas. If that happens, here's hoping that no bad news comes of it, because we've had enough of side effects like methane leaks.