US NewsMassive lithium find in Pennsylvania could meet 40% of US demand

Massive lithium find in Pennsylvania could meet 40% of US demand

The photo shows a lithium deposit in Chile. This is one of the countries from which the USA has so far imported "white gold."
The photo shows a lithium deposit in Chile. This is one of the countries from which the USA has so far imported "white gold."
Images source: © East News | PHILIPPE PSAILA

3:21 PM EDT, May 27, 2024

Scientists have discovered a massive lithium source in Pennsylvania that could satisfy up to 40 percent of the U.S. demand for this valuable element. Lithium, often dubbed "white gold," is precious in modern technology.

According to the magazine "Scientific Reports," the discovery was made in wastewater from gas drilling in Marcellus, Pennsylvania. This water is a byproduct of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, which involves injecting fluids at high pressure into rocks to extract natural gas from shale.

90 percent of the world's lithium supply (worth $8 billion) comes from Australia, Chile, and China. This rare element is essential for producing modern batteries used in smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, smartwatches, and e-cigarettes, and demand for it is steadily increasing. Due to its difficult availability and limited resources, prices rise by about 500 percent annually.

It now appears that almost half of the lithium used for U.S. industry needs could come from Pennsylvania.

The US Geological Survey has recently classified lithium as a critical element, prompting the U.S. government to intensify its search for sources. Currently, the country has only one active lithium mine, in Nevada. This means that to meet demand, the U.S. has to import large amounts from abroad.

Given the importance of lithium for U.S. plans to transition to green energy, officials from the U.S. Department of Energy have set a goal that by 2023, the entire lithium demand should be met from domestic production rather than from brine ponds in Chile processed in China, as is currently the case.

Finding a new "white gold" source significantly brings the U.S. closer to achieving this goal.

The situation is complicated because lithium extraction is a very controversial process; it releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and significant quantities of toxic chemicals into the soil.

The latest discovery offers a chance for a completely different method of obtaining this element without the need to build more mines. However, experts caution that hydraulic fracturing also carries a significant environmental burden. They stress that before starting to extract lithium from wastewater on an industrial scale, it is crucial to understand the ecological impact of this process better.

Dr Justin Mackey from the National Energy Technology Laboratory says oil and gas wastewater is a growing problem. Currently, they are only minimally treated and re-injected into the ground. But they have the potential to be used better. After all, "it's been dissolving rocks for hundreds of millions of years -- essentially, the water has been mining the subsurface," he adds.

The largest lithium deposit in Europe worth $4 billion

At the end of May, geologists estimated that the Jadar Valley in Serbia could contain the largest lithium deposits in Europe. The estimated value of this deposit is $4 billion. Its extraction could provide hundreds of jobs and a steady income stream for the government. The EU and Serbia are finalizing an agreement to exploit these resources.

Lithium is called "white gold" because the deposits of this resource are white. Nowadays, it is a precious metal. It is used in lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, cell phones, and tablets.

It is also used to produce glass and heat-resistant ceramics, durable alloys used in aviation, and lithium cells.

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