Lithium Goldmine: Nevada’s Untapped Resource Set To Revolutionize Energy

Nevada lithium mine

In the heart of the American West, Nevada’s vast desert landscapes have long been synonymous with silver and gold. Yet beneath its rugged terrain lies a different kind of treasure—one that could propel the state into a new era of global significance. With the dawn of the electric vehicle revolution and the ever-growing demand for renewable energy sources, Nevada is at the forefront of a lithium rush.

Nestled in the McDermitt Caldera is a Nevada lithium deposit, one of many in the region. But what makes it unique is that it boasts the largest known lithium reserve in the world. This positions Nevada as a cornerstone in meeting the need for this vital resource.

Here, we explore Nevada’s potential to be a powerhouse supplier of lithium. We’ll also look at the history of lithium in the state and Nevada’s efforts to make the process more sustainable in the years to come.

Why Is Nevada Considered the Lithium Capital of North America?

Also called the Silver State, Nevada is among the most mountainous areas in the United States. Its geographical diversity has endowed the state with a wealth of minerals such as silver, gold, and copper, as well as rocks like basalt, rhyolite, and limestone. This has made Nevada the largest producer of non-fuel minerals in the U.S.

Nevada lithium mine

Now, Nevada is poised to solidify its reputation further as the lithium capital of North America. There are several key factors behind this:

  • Favorable Geology: Nevada’s geological history includes a complex interplay of tectonic activity, volcanic eruptions, and sedimentary processes. This has created favorable conditions for the concentration of lithium-rich minerals over millions of years. It also allows for economically feasible extraction methods, such as evaporation ponds for brine extraction and newer technologies for clay extraction.
  • Ideal Climate: The arid climate in Nevada promotes evaporation, which helps form and preserve lithium-rich brine pools. As a result, lithium minerals are concentrated in the remaining brine solution, which makes it easier to extract.
  • Abundant Lithium Reserves: Nevada has a substantial amount of lithium. For instance, Clayton Valley is home to the only active lithium brine operation in North America. What’s more, Thacker Pass alone is estimated to contain up to 40 million metric tons of the mineral, making it the largest known lithium deposit in the United States.
  • Strategic Investments: Numerous companies have invested in lithium extraction projects in Nevada, forming partnerships with local stakeholders. This has led to the expansion of lithium production capacity and the development of innovative extraction technologies.
  • Supportive Regulatory Environment: Over the years, Nevada has implemented policies to streamline lithium mining processes and provided incentives for companies investing in lithium projects. This encourages further investment in lithium mining and extraction infrastructure.

Looking Back on Nevada’s Lithium Discovery

The history of mining in Nevada traces back to the early exploration of the state’s diverse geological formations. The first indications of lithium in the state date back to the late 19th century, when prospectors and geologists began uncovering various mineral deposits across the region.

One of the earliest discoveries of lithium is in Rhyolite Ridge near Tonopah. The site’s unique geological composition, characterized by lithium-rich clay formations, captured the interest of mining companies. As of 2022, Ioneer Ltd owns the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project. This lithium site in Nevada has one of only two known lithium-boron deposits in the world.

Meanwhile, in the early 1900s, exploratory drilling for water in Clayton Valley revealed the presence of lithium-rich brines beneath the area’s surface. At the time, the commercial value of lithium wasn’t fully recognized. It wasn’t until 1966 that lithium mining began in the area immediately east of Albemarle’s Silver Peak mine, which adjoins the Clayton Valley lithium brine.

The latest addition to Nevada’s lithium reserves was found along Thacker Pass in Humbolt County, roughly 25 miles from the Nevada-Oregon border. Its discovery is the result of the U.S. Geological Survey’s exploration of the McDermitt Caldera in the late 1970s. Experts anticipate that this Nevada lithium mine will be larger than anything previously found worldwide.

Current State of Lithium in Nevada

Data as of September 2023 reveals that there are over 21,000 active lithium prospecting claims across Nevada. The state also hosts several lithium mining projects in various stages of development.

We’ve discussed the Clayton Valley Deep Basin Lithium Brine Project and the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project. Nevada Lithium’s Bonnie Claire project is another one that focuses on sediment-hosted lithium. This project covers an 18,300-acre land package that’s believed to contain an estimated 18.37 million metric tons of lithium carbonate.

lithium mining

Another notable lithium site in Nevada is the Daisy Creek Lithium project in Lander County, which GMV Minerals Inc. controls. It comprises 1,379 hectares of claims covering younger sedimentary rocks within the collapsed caldera. In August 2023, GMV Minerals Inc. staked an additional 83 lode claims adjacent to the project’s current land position.

More recently, the Thacker Pass lithium mine gained attention for its abundant reserves. In fact, numerous companies have invested in feasibility studies to assess the viability of extracting lithium from the region. Situated at the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera, the project received a Record of Decision in January 2021 from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Construction began in early March 2023.

These developments show a significant expansion and diversification within Nevada’s lithium mining industry.

Paving the Way for Sustainable Energy in North America

Today’s increasingly technology-driven world has intensified the need for greener power sources, and lithium is among the most popular. Often referred to as “white gold,” lithium now powers a wide array of devices, from mobile phones, laptops, and electronic toothbrushes to electronic bikes and solar power backup storage systems.

The popularity of lithium as a sustainable source of energy comes as no surprise for several reasons:

  • Abundance: Lithium is among the most abundant elements on Earth. It can be found in various geological formations across the globe, so it’s a stable and reliable supply for future generations.
  • Renewable Energy Storage: Lithium-ion batteries can store renewable energy generated from solar and wind power sources. As a result, this can pave the way for the transition to a low-carbon energy grid.
  • High Efficiency and Reliability: Lithium-ion batteries often offer high energy density, making them a reliable and cost-effective energy storage solution for both stationary and mobile applications.
  • Recycling Potential: Lithium-ion batteries can be recycled to recover valuable materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. This reduces the need for virgin resource extraction and minimizes waste in the long run. Recycling technologies can make lithium production a circular economy, conserving resources and reducing environmental impacts.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects a staggering demand of at least 1.1 million metric tons of lithium annually by 2040. Such a figure exceeds current production by more than tenfold. This suggests that there’s an urgent need to expedite advancements in lithium mining and explore sustainable extraction methods to meet burgeoning market demands. Let’s look at some of the measures Nevada is taking to address this.

Closing the Lithium Loop

The Nevada Lithium Mine in Thacker Pass has the potential to significantly contribute to the advancement of green energy in North America. But extracting lithium is merely the first step toward achieving this goal. To ensure a truly sustainable lithium mining process, it’s important to establish a closed lithium loop.

AquaMetals lithium recycling in Nevada

The lithium loop refers to the circular economy approach to the entire lifecycle of lithium, from extraction to recycling. With this, manufacturers can minimize waste, conserve resources, and reduce overall environmental impact. It also offers the following advantages:

  • Economies of Scale: Concentrating lithium production in Nevada enables large-scale operations. In the long run, this lowers production costs per unit and improves overall operational efficiency.
  • Infrastructure Development: A closed lithium loop can boost the development of infrastructure in the state. For instance, Nevada could expand its transportation network and develop various facilities to reinforce lithium mining.
  • Regulatory Consistency: A centralized production hub in Nevada can help foster consistent regulation and oversight of lithium mining activities. This streamlines the permitting process and ensures compliance with environmental standards.
  • Supply Chain Efficiency: Having multiple lithium mines and processing facilities near each other can optimize the supply chain for lithium-based products. It can also reduce transportation and manufacturing costs and accelerate lead times.
  • Material Recovery and Repurposing: A closed loop can enable any Nevada lithium mine to collect, sort, and disassemble used lithium-ion batteries easily. This enables them to recover materials that can be reused to produce new batteries.
  • Job Creation: Mines require manpower to oversee lithium production, from extraction to processing and transportation. They can provide employment opportunities and boost local economic growth.

The Nevada Battery Coalition

With the "white gold" rush in Nevada picking up speed, more companies are eager to capitalize on the state’s vast lithium reserves. While this can mean economic advantages for the state, it also poses risks. Think of unregulated mining, depletion of natural resources, and waste generation. This is where the Nevada Battery Coalition (NBC) steps in.

The Nevada Battery Coalition is a collaborative initiative aimed at advancing lithium battery technologies and promoting sustainable practices in the battery supply chain. Established in February 2023, it comprises companies, research institutions, and government agencies that want to make a positive difference in the energy sector. Its efforts include:

  • Execution of Pilot Projects: The coalition also supports projects that demonstrate how emerging battery mining, manufacturing, and recycling technologies work in real-world settings. These have helped evaluate experimental methods and scale them up for commercial deployment.
  • Knowledge Sharing on Best Practices: The Nevada Battery Coalition fosters collaboration among industry stakeholders so they can share their expertise in battery science and lithium. As a result, this can speed up the development of sustainable mining and recycling processes.
  • Public Awareness and Education: The group also organizes campaigns to raise public awareness about the importance of lithium, domestic battery manufacturing, and responsible disposal practices.
Nevada Battery Coalition announcement

As you can see, the Nevada Battery Coalition plays a significant role in implementing all legs of the lithium loop: mining, manufacturing, recycling, and repurposing. Through its efforts, leaders can establish best practices to make the battery manufacturing industry more sustainable and resilient.

A Lithium Boom in Nevada Can Help Build a Greener Future

As the world shifts toward sustainable energy solutions, the availability of minerals like lithium becomes increasingly critical. The discovery of the vast Nevada lithium deposits is pivotal in advancing the United States’ goal to adopt more clean energy sources.

With a domestic source of the mineral, the country can reduce its dependence on foreign markets and scale up clean energy technologies in the near future. In addition, this can stimulate economic growth and job creation in the clean energy sector. But this also underscores the importance of developing sustainable mining practices to safeguard our environment for future generations.

Companies like Dragonfly Energy are at the forefront of this effort. We’re spearheading the development of cleaner, domestic processes for producing lithium-ion batteries. With headquarters in Reno, Nevada, we aim to make renewable energy more accessible to various end markets.

By embracing innovation and sustainability, we can pave the way for a greener and more prosperous future powered by lithium technology. Contact us today to learn more about our initiatives to help shape the future of energy.

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