With demand for lithium in the world market projected to increase by 2040 to as much as eight times the demand in 2022, finding new deposits of this metal has become a priority. Currently most of the world’s lithium comes from Australia, Chile, China and Argentina, with potential new mining sites under investigation. One of these sites is the McDermitt caldera in the US, a likely remnant of the Yellowstone hotspot and resulting volcanic activity. According to a recent study (Chemistry World article) by Thomas R. Benson and colleagues in Science Advances, this site may not only contain between 20 to 40 million tons of lithium in the form of the mineral clay illite, but was also formed using a rather unique process.
This particular group of mineral clays can contain a number of other chemicals, which in this particular case is lithium due to the unique way in which the about 40 meter thick layer of sediment was formed. Although lithium is a very common metal, its high reactivity means that it is never found in its elementary form, but instead bound to other elements. Lithium is thinly distributed within the Earth’s crust and oceans. Incidentally, the Earth’s oceans contain by far the largest amount of lithium, at approximately 230 billion tons.
So how much lithium could be extracted from this new area, and how does this compare to the increasing demand?