Lithium deposit found in the US may contain 120 million tons

A lithium-rich zone has been identified along the Nevada–Oregon border and could meet surging demand for the metal.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image of Lithium
Representational image of Lithium


The impacts of climate change and global warming have prompted governments and industries to shift towards a more sustainable approach to just about everything. From electric vehicles to power generation via solar panels and wind turbines, technologies are rapidly adapting.

These technologies, however, require lithium-ion batteries to store energy and power everything from EVs to mobile phones. The forecasted demand for Lithium by the year 2040 would be 1 million metric tons, an eight-fold increase from total global 2022 production.

So, it’s good news that the world's largest lithium deposit has just been discovered inside an extinct volcano in the United States. Volcanologists have reported that along the border of Nevada and Oregon, in a volcanic crater called the McDermitt caldera, there are up to 120 million tonnes of lithium.

World's largest lithium deposit

The lithium-rich zone has only been identified in the southern half of the caldera at Thacker Pass and immediately to the north in the Montana Mountains, reported the researchers in their study.

High concentrations of Lithium in the sediments at McDermitt caldera have been documented by several companies and researchers since the 1970s. The study says that the lithium inventory contained in McDermitt caldera sediments is at least at par with, if not larger than, the lithium found in the Bolivian salt flat, which was previously considered the largest lithium deposit on Earth.

Geologist Anouk Borst, who was not associated with the study, told Chemistry World, “If you believe their back-of-the-envelope estimation, this is a very, very significant deposit of lithium. It could change the dynamics of lithium globally, in terms of price, security of supply and geopolitics.”

Often called ‘white gold,’ concerns have been raised over the lack of abundance of lithium to meet the requirements of the EV industry and renewable energy sources. It’s become a critical resource for green technology; however, it is not abundant or evenly distributed like fuel. It was estimated that the lithium supply would fall short by 2025, but with this discovery, things could change.

Up to 120 million tons of lithium

The high tonnage of lithium is due to the consistently high lithium concentrations measured in lake sediments. Analysis by scientists reveals that claystone composed of the mineral illite contains 1.3% to 2.4% of lithium in the volcanic crater. What surprised the scientists was that this is almost double the lithium present in the main lithium-bearing clay mineral – magnesium smectite, which is more common than illite.

“If they can extract the lithium in a very low energy intensive way, or in a process that does not consume much acid, then this can be economically very significant,” added Borst. “The US would have its own supply of lithium and industries would be less scared about supply shortages.”

Thomas Benson, a geologist at Lithium Americas Corporation who co-wrote the new study, expects that mining can begin at the McDermitt Caldera by 2026, reported the New York Post.

The study was published in Geology.

Study abstract:

Developing a sustainable supply chain for the global proliferation of lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles and grid storage necessitates the extraction of lithium resources that minimize local environmental impacts. Volcano sedimentary lithium resources have the potential to meet this requirement, as they tend to be shallow, high-tonnage deposits with low waste:ore strip ratios. Illite-bearing Miocene lacustrine sediments within the southern portion of McDermitt caldera (USA) at Thacker Pass contain extremely high lithium grades (up to ~1 weight % of Li), more than double the whole-rock concentration of lithium in smectite-rich claystones in the caldera and other known claystone lithium resources globally (<0.4 weight % of Li). Illite concentrations measured in situ range from ~1.3 to 2.4 weight % of Li within fluorine-rich illitic claystones. The unique lithium enrichment of illite at Thacker Pass resulted from secondary lithium- and fluorine-bearing hydrothermal alteration of primary neoformed smectite-bearing sediments, a phenomenon not previously identified.

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