A deposit of lithium recently discovered along the Nevada-Oregon border may be among the world’s largest, having potentially huge implications for the transition to electric vehicles.
Volcanologists and geologists from Lithium Americas Corporation, GNS Science, and Oregon State University reported their findings in a paper for Science Advances, published August 31.
The deposit exists in the McDermitt Caldera, a caldera approximately 28 miles long and 22 miles wide. It is believed that the caldera contains around 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium – a figure that would dwarf deposits in Chile and Australia.
Belgian geologist Anouk Borst told Chemistry World that the findings "could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics."
Geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan told FOX Business that the geology "appears promising" but cautioned that there hasn't "been significant prospecting in the area."
"Obviously worthy of exploration. Definitely not worth changing anyone's mid-term plans. Yet," Zeihan said, arguing that building up processing infrastructure should be first priority.
"Regardless of where we get ore from, we know we're going to have to be able to process lithium ore into concentrate to make lithium metal and batteries and such."
The researchers’ paper comes as automakers, threatened by possible shortages of lithium for EV batteries, are racing to lock in supplies.
Any shortfall in lithium would disrupt plans to ramp up sales to tens of millions of EV’s a year. The race for lithium has also fueled political conflict – particularly with China – and complaints about the environmental cost of extracting them.
Globally, lithium output is on track to triple over the next decade, but demand for electric SUVs, sports cars, and sedans threatens to exceed supply. Each battery requires about 17 pounds of lithium, plus cobalt, nickel and other metals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.