Vast new lithium discovery near Rock Springs could meet entire domestic need

Apr 25, 2013

Researchers with the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute have discovered a vast underground deposit of lithium in Southwest Wyoming. Researchers were taking deep samples in the Rock Springs Uplift to study how the state might store its oil and gas emissions when they discovered the reserve. They say it could hold up to 150 times more lithium than the nation’s current largest producer in Silver Peak, Nevada.

A drilling rig operates near Rock Springs as part of a recent carbon dioxide storage site characterization project led by the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute. Project researchers discovered a vast new lithium resource in the underground brines of the Rock Springs Uplift.

Lithium has gained ground as a key ingredient of greener technologies, such as wind, solar and smart grids, whichuse lithium-ion batteries to store energy for later use. The US currently imports more than 80 percent of the lithium used domestically, but C-M-I Director Ron Surdam says this discovery could change that.

“We’ll have enough lithium once we start the carbon storage facilities out there to, in fact, probably make the United states self-sufficient with respect to lithium which is becoming extremely sought-after product around the world,” says Surdam.

Surdam says the Rock Springs lithium is ideally situated, as it’s lower in magnesium compared with other reserves worldwide, and it’s close to the soda ash, which is needed for processing. He says the discovery should change the way the state thinks about clean energy.

“The potential for state revenues is very large,” says Surdam, “it depends on how much carbon sequestration we do, and how much lithium we recover. And because they’re at depth, those processes will have to be—I’m sure, integrated.”

Carbon dioxide storage is expensive, but it could be done more cost-effectively if emissions are stored where the profitable lithium is mined. Surdam thinks that it will make meeting the EPA’s new requirements on limiting carbon dioxide emissions more palatable.