Image credits: Alexander Schimmeck
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News Article

The US to Develop Lithium Project Near Mexicali

By Fernando Mares | Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:58

As the US is looking to surpass China in lithium in scarce mineral production, California will develop a lithium project in what is now considered to be the largest lithium deposit in the US, located near the border crossing to Mexicali, Baja California.

In February 2022, US president Joe Biden declared that Imperial County, California might hold the largest lithium deposit in the US with an estimated 15 million tons. Following these findings, county authorities have asked the federal government for financing to expand the highway’s capacity for heavy machinery, as well as to establish a lithium extraction-related tax to benefit the county’s communities. Local authorities estimate that the US’ production could start in 2025. 

Lithium Valley is located in the northeast of Imperial Valley, in the 4th district near Calipatria, A city with ten geothermal power plants. The area is the US counterpart of the Mexicali Valley. Because geological patterns are not restricted by borders, Mexicali Valley also features geothermal power plants at Cerro Prieto and has a similarly strong potential for lithium exploitation projects, though more studies are needed.

Cerro Prieto features evaporation ponds, where lithium can be found without requiring mining activity. This would be a competitive advantage compared to Lithium Valley, which does require mining activity. Cerro Prieto’s lithium is found in brine, which is waste from the steam used for power production. This brine is present in an evaporation lagoon of 15km², with a capacity to expand to 3000km² and an estimated 1.7 million tons of lithium. 

In an interview with La Voz de la Frontera, Eleuterio Palacios, Civil Engineer, the University of Tokyo, said that evaporation lagoons hold lithium minerals like potassium chloride and sodium chloride, too. He added that Cerro Prieto had a project to extract both sodium and potassium chloride in the 70s. This project was canceled in the 80s because of an economic crisis. He assured that with a little investment, these projects could be restarted. For lithium, he said that the only problem is the presence of calcium in the brine. Nevertheless, he assured that once lithium and calcium are separated, lithium carbonate can be obtained, the commercialized form of lithium. 

Still, the Mining Law reform is the main challenge the lithium deposit is facing, since it bans private exploitation of the strategic mineral. Eduardo Oviedo, the owner of five lithium concessions that includes Cerro Prieto’s brine, stated that the government would not cancel his lithium concession retroactively. 

Oviedo added that he has held the concession for 12 years. Ten years ago, he proposed a collaboration with CFE to exploit the brine in order to obtain not just lithium, but also potassium, producing green hydrogen in the process. Nevertheless, he said he received no response. 
 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
La Voz de la Frontera, La Jornada
Photo by:   Alexander Schimmeck
Fernando Mares Fernando Mares Junior Journalist and Industry Analyst