Nevada supervolcano’s lithium reserve could power electric vehicles for a decade

 (Google Maps)
(Google Maps)

A huge reserve of lithium, which is the primary component in electric car batteries, has been analysed on the border between Orgeon and Nevada in the US.

The lithium deposits sits in the McDermitt caldera, which is the rock formation left when a volcano erupts and collapses. This particular caldera was believed to have been formed up to 19 million years ago.

This lithium store is nothing new, then, but its discovery of the extent of it is. It was written about in a paper published by Science Advances at the end of August.

The paper estimates that 20-40 tonnes of lithium, with an upper estimate of 120 metric tonnes, could sit in the McDermitt caldera. It is predominately found in a sediment of magnesian smectite clay.

This makes it potentially the largest lithium source in the world, with the biggest previous caches found in Argentina, Chile, Australia, and Bolivia. It could also potentially double the currently known sources of lithium.

Global reserves of lithium were estimated at 98 million tonnes in a US Geological Survey document published in January 2023. The McDermitt caldera would add to that figure.

One of the paper’s authors is the lead geologist for Lithium Americas Corporation, which runs lithium-production projects in the US and Argentina.

Its high lithium estimates are based on “consistently high Li concentrations measured in lake sediment” in the area.

However, plans to develop a lithium ion mining site at the nearby Thacker Pass have proved contentious. Native American communities argue it is sacred ground, as the site of an 1865 massacre.

Elon Musk has previously claimed the average Tesla battery contains 5kg of lithium, although the exact amount depends on the capacity of the battery itself.

Most current Tesla batteries use a great many 18650 lithium ion cells, which are the batteries used in many vape pens. Tesla and Panasonic are currently producing much larger 4680 lithium-ion cells in a gigafactory in Texas.