Nevada Mine Could Produce 25% of World's Lithium
The largest known lithium deposit in the United States is in northern Nevada, and a mining company says it has big plans for the property.
The largest known lithium deposit in the United States is in northern Nevada, and a mining company says it has big plans for the property. The high-grade, highly-concentrated mineral is found in the McDermitt Caldera, stretching from Humboldt County into Oregon.
"Chevron started drilling this site out back in the 70s, looking for uranium and they found lithium instead, so it's a known resource," Alexi Zawadzki, CEO of Lithium Nevada said. "The McDermitt Caldera is one of the most highly mineralized calderas in the world."
A prehistoric volcano created the caldera, which turned into a lake. The lithium is in the clay that sat at the bottom of the water.
"This was basically the Yellowstone hot spot, which has moved over the last 16 million years to the east and this is a geological artifact of that," Zawadzki said.
Lithium Nevada says it will start mining at Thacker Pass in 2022, initially producing about 30,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate. It will begin production on its second phase in 2025, doubling that number. Officials say it will provide 25% of the world's lithium and will have a mine life of at least 46 years.
"We found an area that we can mine at a good rate for 46 years," Tim Crowley, Vice President of Government Affairs & Community Relations for Lithium Nevada said. "That's almost unheard of."
Lithium demand is on the rise because consumers are using more devices that require energy storage.
"It's expected that by 2025, the demand for lithium products to support the production of batteries is going to quadruple," Zawadzki said.
"You see it in electric vehicles which will be our market," Crowley said. "You see it in home storage in batteries for storing energy at your home. Consumers are using lithium all over. The market is going to keep growing and growing."
The mine will use sulfuric acid to extract the lithium from the clay. Construction of an on-site sulfuric acid plant and lithium processing plant is expected within the next two years.
"The advantages of that is it's going to be controlled and safe and clean and efficient," Crowley said.
About 800 construction jobs are slated for the plants. Once the mine operations begin, more than 290 people will have permanent jobs that could include anything from equipment operators to lab technicians. The average pay is projected to be $86,400 per year.
"These are STEM jobs," Dana Bennett, President of the Nevada Mining Association said. "These are part of the new Nevada. They are jobs that are going to be skilled."
Lithium Carbonate is exported to Asia where it is processed into cathodes for batteries. Zawadzki says a mine of this scale could allow similar capabilities.
"Having a resource here gives us options to make those cathodes in the United States and maybe right here in Nevada," Zawadzki said.
Lithium Nevada has done six years of environmental work and the lithium deposit stretches into ecologically sensitive areas that will not be mined. The Thacker Pass Project is in a small area on the south end of the caldera.
"We're going to great lengths to study the impacts that this project will have on water, on wildlife and on the surrounding areas and we're finding that the impacts are quite low," Crowley said.
The mine pit will be about 1.5 miles long, .5 miles wide, and about 350 deep. That is not very big compared to many other open pit mines.
"It is not a physically large project but the material coming out of it is so important," Crowley said.
The mine will be designed in a way that will allow the mine to expand to the south, where the company is drilling exploration holes.
"We continue to explore," Zawadzki said. "We're drilling right now and we expect that that number potentially can go up. We have yet to find the edge of this deposit."
Nevada's only operational lithium mine is in Silver Peak, in Esmerelda County. It extracts the mineral from groundwater by pumping it into holding ponds on the surface where it will evaporate. Since the Thacker Pass Project's lithium is in the clay, they will use strip mining to gather the ore.
Over the 46-year lifespan, the mine is projected to produce $6.7 billion in state and federal taxes.