Saturday, April 13

We have a gigantic problem with the shortage of lithium. Geothermal energy wants to solve it

If one is asked about types of renewable energies, the first ones that usually come to mind are hydraulic, solar and wind energy. There are other options with great potential such as geothermal energy, but to date its market share in this sector is very low. That could change now that one more possible advantage of this technology has been discovered, which in addition to offering this energy source poses a solution to an equally important problem for the future. One that has a lot to do with the electric car.

Geothermal energy is the ugly duckling of renewables. If there is a popular renewable energy, that is hydroelectricity, which represents more than half of the renewable production worldwide according to data from OurWorldInData. Wind and solar occupy the second and third places in this particular ranking, but the great displaced is geothermal energy, which has a negligible market share. In the United States, the largest producer of this type of energy, geothermal only represented 2% of all the energy generated there in 2020 according to the Energy Information Administration.

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The market share of geothermal energy is very small, and in fact it is the least important of the renewables, even in the United States, the country in the world that is most committed to this alternative. Source: EIA.

Expensive but promising. The problem of geothermal energy is related to the high cost of its implementation, both in the search for the best areas for drilling and in the creation of plants and wells. However, there are projects that promise to turn it into the solution to our energy problem.

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New drilling technologies propose wells up to 20 km deep with which to access an inexhaustible source of energy. Among its clear advantages is the fact that it is a much more constant source of energy in terms of generation rates, unlike wind or solar energy that suffer interruptions and peaks in their production.

Take lithium as a gift. A group of geologists have devised a system that also allows the generation of lithium that is theoretically valid for the manufacture of batteries. The saline solution that is extracted from the depths is enriched with lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron. A project under development promises to be able to extract lithium from these operations, and facilities such as the one in the Salton Sea, in California, plan to generate 10 times the lithium necessary for the demand of the United States.

Two birds with one stone. That’s especially exciting news since lithium is a key ingredient for electric car success. Car batteries make massive use of this metal, but the geopolitical situation —China is the largest producer in the world— makes these geologists believe that investing in this possibility could guarantee the independence of the Asian giant in this field.

Geothermal energy is not perfect, but if this research shows that lithium could be generated in a parallel and efficient way, we would be facing an important argument to promote the creation of geothermal plants.

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