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Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake

Wednesday, 06/12/2023, 14:10 (GMT+7)

It is believed that the world's largest 'white gold' mine is lying underneath the giant lake.

A recent research study supported by the Department of Energy (DOE) has investigated the Salton Sea in an attempt to assess the abundant lithium reserves present beneath this expansive water body.

Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake 1
Salton Sea is considered the world's largest lithium deposit. Image Credit: Getty

Situated in southern California, the Salton Sea is the largest lake in the state which is 35 miles long, 15 miles wide, and 51 feet deep.

While it was previously understood that the lake sat atop a lithium reservoir, recent findings have disclosed the immense quantity of this chemical element present.

Through drilling, a confirmed reserve of four million tons of lithium has already been identified. However, scientists have now estimated that the potential reserves could reach an astonishing 18 million tons.

Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake 2
Salton Sea Lake is estimated to contain up to 18 million tons of lithium. Image Credit: Getty

Experts declared that 18 million tons could supply the energy needed for over 382 million electric vehicle batteries. 

This vast resource has led California Governor Gavin Newsom to describe the Salton Sea as the Saudi Arabia of lithium mining, highlighting its value and importance.

The recent discovery positions the reservoir in the Salton Sea as the largest lithium deposit in the world.

Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake 3
382 million batteries for electric vehicles can be filled fully with 18 million tons of lithium. Image Credit: Getty

Considering the current market value of approximately $29,000 per metric ton of lithium, the estimated reserves of up to 18 million tons suggest that the Salton Sea could potentially hold goods worth around $540 billion. 

Most lithium is now recovered from underground brine reservoirs or hard rock mines, and a large portion of the energy required for this process originates from fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Michael McKibben, a geochemistry professor at the University of California, Riverside, and one of the 22 authors of the report, emphasized the significance of their findings by stating, "This is one of the largest lithium brine deposits in the world. 

Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake 4
Salton Sea holds a massive lithium reserve of 18 million tons, worth around $540 billion, making the United States self-sufficient in lithium. Image Credit: Getty

"This could make the US completely self-sufficient in lithium and stop importing it from China." 

China has controlled the lithium industry for decades since the country refines 90% of the metal that is mined. Lithium is an essential component for batteries that power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles and solar panels. 

Sammy Roth, the climate columnist for the Los Angeles Times, said on KJZZ radio's The Show: "It's been known for a long time that there's a whole bunch of lithium in this super-heated underground pool, sort of deep beneath the southern end of the Salton Sea."

"There have been companies for decades, actually that have been trying to get lithium out of there, and especially in the last decade as electric vehicles and energy storage on the the power grid become such a big need.

Scientists found $540 billion worth of 'white gold' in California lake 5
Lithium gets the name 'white gold' from its white, sand-like appearance. Credits: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

"But this new report out of the federal government it's a sort of eye-popping number. They found that there's potentially enough lithium down there to supply batteries for 382 million electric vehicles, which is more, more vehicles than there are on the road in the United States today. So, if we could get all that lithium, that'd be huge," he concluded.

Furthermore, these results may contribute to President Joe Biden's goal of having 50% of US cars on the road be electric by 2030.

The DOE claims that steam flash mining is less harmful to the environment than other mining techniques that require a lot of water and land or leave enormous holes in the ground.

Initial projections indicated that lithium recovery activities would require approximately three percent of the region's available water supply.