Lithium has established itself as one of the most valuable resources of our time. Owning it is equivalent to having a treasure in your hands, because of its important connection to the production of essential batteries for the devices that we all have in our daily lives, such as mobiles phones, computers and electric cars.
This need has prompted many countries to start the so-called “lithium race”, to actively search for reserves of this metal in their territory.
The discovery will be of worldwide importance
The United States, which has until now relied on China to meet its demand for lithium, may have discovered one of the largest global reserves of the metal under the site of an ancient volcano. A recent study revealed that the McDermitt Caldera, located between Nevada and Oregon, has a concentration of lithium more than twice that of any other known deposit, from 20 to 40 million metric tons. This would be equivalent to a value of 1.48 trillion dollars. This study, published in Science Advances, was funded by a mining company.
Specialist researchers from Lithium Americas Corporation, GNS Science and Oregon State University made a complete analysis of the area, identifying valuable material. However, what further increases the value of this discovery is the identification of a rare clay called illitia, which has a lithium concentration level higher than the common volcanic smectite clay.
Scientists believe that 16 million years ago, a massive supervolcano eruption released magma that enriched the clay with lithium, producing smectite. This magma moved into an ancient dry lake, triggering a chemical reaction that transformed the lithium smectite into illitia, which is more saturated with lithium.
The green dilemma
Now, Lithium Americas Corporation is proposing to build a 72 km² mine in the region. However, this initiative is not without controversy. Thacker Pass, or Peehee Mu’huh, is an ancestral territory of various indigenous communities who, among other activities, seek and collect traditional medicines. An environmental report from the US Department of the Interior indicates that these practices will be threatened if the mine continues. In addition, there is concern on the part of ranchers about a potential depletion of groundwater.
This situation presents an ecological challenge: lithium is necessary for a green transition, but its extraction may compromise the integrity of the natural environment.