Daily Bread for 3.22.22: Go Geothermal

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will see scattered showers with a high of 46.  Sunrise is 6:52 AM and sunset 7:10 PM for 12h 17m 31s of daytime.  The moon is a waning gibbous with 78.5% of its visible disk illuminated.

 Whitewater’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee meets at 5:30 PM. [Updated: Wednesday, not today.]

On this day in 1854, Eugene Shepard, father of the Hodag, is born:

On this date Eugene Shepard was born near Green Bay. Although he made his career in the lumbering business near Rhinelander, he was best known for his story-telling and practical jokes. He told many tales of Paul Bunyan, the mythical lumberjack, and drew pictures of the giant at work that became famous. Shepard also started a new legend about a prehistoric monster that roamed the woods of Wisconsin – the hodag. Shepard built the mythical monster out of wood and bull’s horns. He fooled everyone into believing it was alive, allowing it to be viewed only inside a dark tent. The beast was displayed at the Wausau and Antigo county fairs before Shepard admitted it was all a hoax.

Hodag ‘captured’ by Eugene Shepard, 1893.

America needn’t be reliant on foreign souces of elements for key technologies. Bryant Jones1 (Ph.D. Candidate of Energy Policy, Boise State University) and Michael McKibben2 (Research Professor of Geology, University of California, Riverside) write How a few geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch and boost the EV battery industry

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change – for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places like California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is currently heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries – most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As a geologist who works with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.


Enough lithium to far exceed today’s US demand

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution located far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations – about 30% – of dissolved solids.

If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand.

Producing lithium from geothermal brines:


1. Bryant Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
2. Michael McKibben currently receives federal funding from the Department of Energy to research the origins of lithium resources in geothermal brines. He occasionally consults for geothermal companies, but does not own individual shares in those companies.

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