Combining Lithium Extraction and Geothermal Energy for Renewable Energy
Beneath the Earth’s crust, super-hot rock holds the potential to provide clean, renewable energy called geothermal energy. This resource is just waiting to be tapped. However, the development of geothermal energy over the past couple decades has been hampered by significant upfront investment, financial risk, and a perceived cost higher than renewables like wind and solar. But that could all change if geothermal energy is paired with lithium extraction.
Research from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) shows that coupling geothermal energy production with lithium extraction could substantially lower the cost of geothermal developments and boost plant profitability. Plus, it would provide a way to extract high-demand minerals like lithium to manufacture batteries, electronic vehicles, and more.
“Geothermal development has been stagnant for the last 30 years due to economic and logistic constraints but coupling it with lithium extraction could make plants more profitable, faster,” said Dave Goodman, PNNL research analyst.
Zeroing in on the Salton Sea—an area with abundant geothermal potential and lithium reserves—the research team took a close look at how various finance, policy, and technology scenarios could affect the time to profitability and projected profits of geothermal plants in the region. Shorter permitting timelines, reduced construction costs, and government subsidization could all increase geothermal viability, but co-location with lithium extraction was shown to have the greatest potential to lower barriers and encourage successful future geothermal development.
Wringing water—and metals—from stone
In geothermal energy production, water—called brine—is heated by super-hot rock deep underground. When the brine is moved to the Earth’s surface, it cools rapidly, producing steam that turns turbines and generates energy. Then, the brine is returned to the ground, continuing the cycle. The United States has the largest known geothermal resource in the world, with an estimated potential to provide up to 10 percent of the total U.S. electricity capacity.