Mud pot fields near the southeastern shores of the Salton Sea show the potential energy brewing beneath the surface of the known Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area where EnergySource have built geothermal plants and others like Controlled Thermal Resources of Australia are also developing geothermal plants. Ultimately, both companies will also build lithium-extraction facilities to draw the valued mineral from the geothermal brine and serve a demand that is escalating rapidly. | CONTROLLED THERMAL RESOURCE PHOTO
BHE Renewables, which runs numerous geothermal-energy plants around the Salton Sea area under its subsidiary CalEnergy Operating Corp., was recently awarded a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to support the construction of a demonstration lithium extraction facility in Calipatria.
The announcement came from Assembly member Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, who sent a statement congratulating the company on receiving the grant as the state continues its push to achieve Gov. Gavin Newsom’s zero-emission vehicle goals, Garcia stated in the release sent out Tuesday, Jan. 26.
The Department of Energy grant was for $14,894,540, which was a one-for-one cost-share match on an overall project cost of $29,789,0981 to turn geothermal brine waste from geothermal-energy operations into battery-grade lithium, according to DOE documents. In addition to BHE Renewables and CalEnergy, Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., and others are named grant beneficiaries.
“After persistent and collaborative advocacy, it is exciting to see momentum build for lithium projects in Imperial Valley. I congratulate BHE Renewables on this nearly $15 million investment and commend their efforts to galvanize a competitive lithium industry in California,” Garcia stated in the release. “While the Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area is home to the largest deposits of lithium reserves in North America, virtually none is produced in the United States. As global demand for lithium continues to grow and California works to achieve our zero-emission vehicle goals, we are presented with the perfect opportunity for our region to be part of this push and lead economic recovery.”
Garcia went on to acknowledge the California Energy Commission: “We truly appreciate the support and leadership of Commissioner Douglas and Chair Hochschild. The CEC’s partnership is instrumental as we propel towards our clean energy and electric vehicle future.”
Last year, the CEC awarded a $6 million matching grant to BHE Renewables for a demonstration plant that would recover lithium reliably and cost-effectively from geothermal brine in the form of a lithium chloride solution.
“Successful lithium production from geothermal brine could become the catalyst to revive Imperial Valley’s decades-old geothermal power industry, not just creating new jobs but also making the price of baseload geothermal power more cost effective for the benefit of California customers. These two projects represent bold steps in further solidifying the state’s global leadership in renewable energy and sustainability,” stated Jonathan M. Weisgall, vice president of government relations at Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
On Dec. 9, the CEC appointed nine members to the new Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California (Lithium Valley Commission). This 14-seat commission, created through Garcia’s AB 1657, will bring together industry experts and community stakeholders to review, analyze, and report their recommendations to advance lithium extraction opportunities.