Weekly Nugget

GM to Source Lithium from California, Invests in Brine Operation

General Motors announced plans to work with a California-based lithium extraction and geothermal energy company, Controlled Thermal Resources


The American auto manufacturer, General Motors (GM) recently announced plans to work with a California-based lithium extraction and geothermal energy company, Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR). The company is developing a lithium and power generation facility in the Hell’s Kitchen geothermal field in the Salton Sea.

CTR uses a closed loop process that extracts brine from the subsurface, separates the steam from the geothermal source which is used to drive a turbine to generate electricity, and also reacts the steam with the brine to separate lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate, the key ingredients used in electric battery cell production.

The water and brine are then pumped back into the ground. Unlike traditional mining, this leaves no tailings and the whole process produces renewable energy with no carbon emissions.

GM made a commitment to invest $35 billion in EVs and autonomous vehicles, this investment in CTR and it’s Hell’s Kitchen project marks the first ”multi-million dollar” step towards fulfilling that commitment. The exact amount was not disclosed.

As the first investor, GM will have first rights on lithium produced by the first stage of the Hell's Kitchen project, including an option to renew. The first phase of the Hell’s Kitchen development is expected to start delivering lithium in 2024.

The lithium provided from this operation will provide the some of the material for GMs planned production line for 20 electric vehicle models by 2023 at its new battery production facilities.

In early 2020, GM announced a $2.3-billion joint venture with LG chem to produce battery cells. The joint venture company, Ultium Cells, has two lithium ion cell production plants under construction with two more planned to be in production by 2025.

These four factories will have a total capacity of 140 GWh per year of cells and will require significant inputs of lithium in the manufacturing of batteries.

Most of the lithium used for batteries today comes from either South American or Australian lithium brines and hard rock mines and it is processed in China. The US is currently under pressure to secure its supply lines for a renewable energy transition.

Standard Lithium is also developing a patented direct lithium extraction method from bines found in the Smackover formation of South Central Arkansas.

Extraction of lithium from brine offers a quicker timeline to production than the traditional methods of lithium.

There 146 technical reports for lithium projects on Prospector Portal.

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Pacific Island Nation of Nauru Moves Closer to Deep Sea Mining

Nauru has declared its intention to start deep-sea mining in two years, despite that the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations body governing this activity, has not agreed upon rules and regulations governing deep sea mining.

Nauru is using a “two-year rule,” a clause in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that allows member states to notify the ISA of their intention to start deep-sea mining.

This requires the ISA to adopt laws and permits to govern the proposed mining activity. If this is not achievable, the ISA must at least evaluate the mining proposal by the end of the two-year period.

This action by the government of Nauru comes right on the heels of the merger of Canadian-based DeepGreen Metals with the NASDAQ-listed SPAC, Sustainable Opportunities Corp, to create a new corporate entity The Metals Company which will specifically mine the area of the ocean within Nauru’s jurisdiction.

The company through its subsidiaries holds exploration and commercial rights to three polymetallic nodule contract areas in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean sponsored by the governments of Nauru, Kiribati and the Kingdom of Tonga.

The exploration rights covering 224,533 square kilometers, roughly the area of Romania.

Lying at the bottom of the ocean are potato-sized Nodules that contain high grades of four battery metals in a single ore. Copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese are the primary metals but also the key metals for renewable technologies.

According to the company’s studies, the number of polymetallic nodules within the company’s three exploration areas is enough metals for ~280 million EVs.

However, more than 350 scientists from 44 countries signed a petition calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining “until sufficient and robust scientific information has been obtained.”

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