When it comes to rare-earth elements (REEs), lithium stands out because of its usefulness and potential value. That’s why the Department of Energy (DOE) was jumping for joy when it discovered what is believed to be the world’s largest supply of lithium beneath California’s Salton Sea. The estimated 18 million-ton motherlode could be worth up to $540 billion and meet America’s demand for decades to come.
In the 1990s, lithium was perhaps most famous for being the title of a hit song by the band Nirvana. Fast forward 30 years, and Lithium has become famous as an indispensable element in the multibillion-dollar renewable energy industry. Lithium is a key component of the rechargeable batteries that power things like electric cars. Production of other important consumer products like cellular phones and solar energy panels also requires large amounts of lithium.
Without enough Lithium to power those batteries and other innovations, the world’s effort to fight climate change through renewable energy will be hampered. In a recent report, high-ranking DOE official Jeff Marootian said, “Lithium is vital to decarbonizing the economy and meeting President Biden’s goals of 50% electric vehicle adoption by 2030.” The problem with that is China currently dominates the global production of lithium.
A global rival such as China controlling the world’s supply of lithium runs counter to America’s strategic and economic interests. That’s why the DOE has been funding the exploration of lithium sources inside the United States. As part of that effort, it gave a $14.9 million grant to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy to study the area surrounding the Salton Sea, which straddles Riverside and Imperial counties in the California desert.
California Gov. Gavin Newsome was touring the Salton Sea with President Joe Biden to tout America’s renewable energy industry when he referred to the area as “t “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that the DOE estimates there is enough lithium beneath the Salton Sea to provide batteries for more than 375 million electric vehicles (EVs).
The estimated 18 million tons of lithium would put America firmly in the lead in terms of supplying the global market. It could turbocharge EV and solar production and has the potential to give the United States an unprecedented level of energy independence.
If the lithium beneath the Salton Sea can be harvested and brought to market, America would no longer have to rely on nations like Saudi Arabia and China for its energy or automaking needs. America would also be much richer because lithium is worth an estimated $29,000 per ton. That would make the Salton Sea’s estimated 18 million gallons worth $540 billion.
A partnership between the U.S. government and Buffett has the potential to increase America’s production of lithium and profitability for the industry. That’s why Berkshire Hathaway Energy is hard at work. The company operates 10 of the Salton Sea’s geothermal power plants.
It is not alone. EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources are also operating in the area. If America becomes the global leader in lithium production, it could lead to a boom of lithium-based businesses that could add billions or trillions of dollars per year to the U.S. economy.