California’s Lithium Valley Vision calls for developing a world-class lithium industry centered on recovering lithium from the Salton Sea region. This includes expanding geothermal energy production, conservation efforts and economic development with substantive benefits for local residents.  

Located in the Eastern Coachella Valley and Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border, this region contains some of the largest lithium deposits in the world. Recent analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that there’s enough lithium to support over 375 million batteries for electric vehicles (EV).  

The U.S. government considers lithium to be one of 35 critical minerals vital to the nation’s security and economic prosperity. Global lithium demand is expected to grow substantially over the next decade, driven by the increased demand for lithium-ion batteries in EVs and energy storage for the electricity sector. These technologies are key to California’s clean energy and transportation goals as the state works to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles and fossil fuel-based electricity.  

Lithium is a soft, silvery-white metal that can be found in many places throughout the world, typically in hard rock, sediments, and certain water sources. In the Salton Sea region, lithium can be found in geothermal brine, a super-heated natural occurring fluid found underground. 

According to the U.S Geological Survey, lands shall be classified as a Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA) when "the prospects for extraction of geothermal steam or associated geothermal resources from an area are good enough to warrant expenditures of money for that purpose.” The Salton Sea KGRA, located at the southern end of the Salton Sea, is believed to have the highest concentration of lithium contained in geothermal brine in the world.

While many consumer products like cellphones use lithium-ion batteries, this metal is a crucial component for EV batteries, a 100-percent clean electric grid, and moving the state’s homes and industries away from fossil fuels. World demand for lithium is expected to grow as much as tenfold in the next decade, but virtually none is produced in the United States. The Salton Sea region contains the fifth largest lithium deposit in the world. It is estimated that this region can produce enough lithium to support 5 million EV batteries per year.

In the Salton Sea region, lithium is recovered through a process called direct lithium extraction which is paired with existing or new geothermal power plants. Geothermal power plants extract lithium from super-heated brine under the earth’s surface, while the steam produced by this process generates power. This technology has a much lower environmental impact than hard rock mining and evaporation ponds.

  • Established by Assembly Bill 1657 in September 2020, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California, known more commonly as the “Lithium Valley Commission,” was created to explore opportunities and challenges surrounding lithium recovery. The bill authorized the California Energy Commission (CEC) to convene the Lithium Valley Commission. 

  • In a crucial milestone toward making California a global leader in the production of lithium, the Lithium Valley Commission submitted a report of findings and recommendations that provide a pathway for the state’s Lithium Valley Vision. 

  • The report, which was submitted to the state legislature in December 2022, recommends accelerating transmission planning, improving permitting, and securing funding for infrastructure investments and economic development incentives to support industry growth and job training. 

In June 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 208, which provides $5 million to Imperial County for environmental review and community engagement and creates the Lithium Extraction Tax Law. The law will help promote a robust California-based industry that considers the needs of Imperial Valley communities where the lithium recovery occurs. Eighty percent of this tax revenue will be disbursed to all counties in proportion to the amounts collected in each county. For revenue disbursed to the County of Imperial, a minimum of 30 percent will be provided to communities within the County of Imperial impacted by lithium recovery activities. The remaining 20 percent will fund efforts to restore the Salton Sea.

Since 2017, the CEC has awarded more than $14 million to research projects to advance innovations for lithium recovery from geothermal brines. The CEC plans to award an additional $23 million for research in 2024. 

The CEC continues to look at ways to engage partners, the community, and others to support Lithium Valley development. Subscribe to our mailing list for the latest updates.

Upcoming Events

April 19, 2024 | 09:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Remote Access or In-Person
The California Energy Commission (CEC) will host a workshop to provide an update on the Lithium Valley Vision and receive public input on the planned scope of the CEC’s Lithium Valley Informational Proceeding. This is a hybrid meeting with both a publicly accessible physical location and public access online or by phone through Zoom™. 

Contact

Erik Stokes
LithiumValley@energy.ca.gov

Media and Public Communications Office
mediaoffice@energy.ca.gov

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