A recently discovered lithium deposit along the border between Nevada and Oregon, United States, will be one of the largest in the world, with potentially large implications for the transition to electric vehicles.
Volcanologists and geologists from Lithium Americas Corporation, GNS Science, and Oregon State University report their findings in a paper for Science Advances, published on August 31.
It is estimated that between Between 20 and 40 million tons of lithium metal can be found inside a volcanic crater, the McDermitt caldera, formed about 16 million years ago.
This is much larger than the lithium deposits found under a salt flat in the Bolivian Uyuni, which was once considered the largest deposit in the world.
“If you believe their rough estimates, this is a very important lithium deposit,” said Anouk Borst, a geologist at KU Leuven University and the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, according to Fox Business. “This could change the dynamics of lithium worldwide, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics,” the European expert emphasized.
New in situ analysis reveals that a rare clay, composed of the mineral illite, contains between 1.3% and 2.4% of volcanic lithium. This is almost double the lithium found in the main lithium-bearing clay mineral, magnesium smectite, which is more common than illite.
Impact on Chile
The experts consulted do not have a univocal opinion on what effect the discovery will have on the global market and, in particular, on Chile’s National Lithium Strategy.
Juan Carlos Guajardo, executive director of Plusmining, explained that although “this announcement actually points to a large discovery on a global scale and has serious support since it was published in a high-class Journal, the study is still hypothetical even if there are positive views” .
And even if it is done by geologists, it has little information on drilling, he emphasized. “This is a deposit that will exploit clay soils so the recovery technology will eventually become an issue. And getting the permits will take many years,” he explained.
“The extractive process is complex,” said Daniel Jiménez, the founding partner of the consulting firm iLiMarkets. “Maybe there are more attractive projects in Brazil, Africa and not to mention Argentina and Australia,” he explained.