Scientists claim to have discovered the world’s largest lithium deposit inside an extinct volcano in the United States, capable of meeting global demand for batteries for decades.
Volcanologists and geologists found evidence that the McDermitt caldera, on the border between Nevada and Oregon, contains up to 120 million tons of lithium, which could alter the price and supply dynamics of this mineral on a global scale.
The ancient supervolcano exploded about 16 million years ago, forming the rare metal inside its volcanic rock.
Lithium-ion batteries are used to power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles, but the huge amounts of lithium needed to produce them have sparked a “lithium rush,” according to researchers.
Current supply forecasts suggest that approximately one million metric tons of lithium will be needed by 2040 to meet global demand, an eightfold increase from last year’s total global production.
The researchers’ calculations estimate that the McDermitt caldera could contain up to 120 million metric tons of lithium, which would make it 12 times greater than the amount of lithium in the Bolivian salt flats, which were previously considered the largest lithium deposit in the world. the earth.
“Developing a sustainable and diverse supply chain to meet low-carbon energy and national security objectives requires the extraction of the highest quality domestic lithium resources with the lowest proportion of waste per mineral extraction to minimize both the volume of material extracted from the Earth,” the researchers point out in a study published in Science Advances.
“Volcanic sedimentary lithium resources have the potential to meet this requirement, as they tend to be shallow, high-tonnage deposits with a low mineral residue loss ratio.”
Exploitation could begin in 2026, according to geologists at Lithium Americas Corporation, who made the discovery along with GNS Science and Oregon State University. However, the site of a proposed mine on the Nevada side of the caldera has already sparked protests from environmental groups, as well as two area tribes who say it would be built on sacred land.
Responding to the latest discovery, Tesla boss Elon Musk said the deposit will only be economically significant to the electric car industry if it can be refined efficiently.
“Lithium mineral is quite common around the world. The limiting factor is lithium refining,” Musk posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday.
“The same goes for the cathode, which is mainly iron (mid-range cars) or nickel (long-range) and the anode, which is carbon. The refining matters more than the ore.”