The high-temperature underground fluids that are used in geothermal plants are commonly associated with several mineral-solutions. Simbol Materials verified that the Salton Sea aquifers in California, (a site where 5 geothermal plants are online with a total capacity of 170 MW) actually contain dozens of minerals, including lithium, zinc and manganese. There is such a concentration of such minerals that the latter can be extracted at cost-effective conditions.
Lithium is already produced from water solutions, but this method takes months, since after fluids are pumped into a basin the water takes time to evaporate, leaving salty elements on the ground. The novelty of this project consists in the use of geothermal fluids, that could form a sort of “mine”, already available and tested, producing significant benefits in economic and environmental terms. Furthermore, the system used for lithium extraction allows a huge time reduction for processing it. Indeed, Simbol Materials has developed a method that can filter about 20,000 litres of liquid in a few minutes, producing between 40 and 80 litres of a mixed salty solution. When completed, the new plant will produce about 500 tons of lithium carbonate per year.