Lithium and the Future of Electrification

DOE’s new Lithium StoryMap lays out the relationship between geothermal energy and lithium while exploring why the DOE is investing in technologies supporting lithium extraction from geothermal brines. Using an easily digestible format, visitors can scroll through the role of lithium in renewable energy today, how the critical material is currently obtained, and why the Salton Sea region of California may prove to be a key domestic source—with a little help from geothermal energy. As lithium demand continues to grow, geothermal energy may soon play a greater role in our lives and in the green economy.

Subsurface Characterization, Monitoring, and Modeling of a Geothermal Exchange Borefield for the Campus Instructional Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Download the document.

This report presents the outcome of research in geothermal energy, specifically geothermal exchange, conducted by geologists, hydrogeologists, and engineers at the Illinois State Geological Survey and Illinois Water Resources Center in partnership with engineering faculty and students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign (U of I), who are members of the newly-formed Illinois Geothermal Coalition. This effort brought together a multi-disciplinary and multiorganizational team of scientists and engineers who are focused on advancing the application of geothermal energy technologies for district heating and cooling systems that allow energy end users to meet net carbon neutrality, renewable energy, and grid resilience goals.

The research specifically supported the design and operation of a shallow geothermal exchange system for the U of I and its private partners at the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF) that just recently came online in April 2021. As academic campuses aggressively pursue renewable and sustainable energy sources to reduce their carbon footprints and enhance operational resiliency, geothermal energy has increasingly garnered more interest and is considered an uninterruptible source of heating and cooling, offering greater dependability in supplying a constant energy load with the least impact on the energy grid. Geothermal energy is very attractive because of its long-term environmental and economic benefits, especially since heating, cooling, and dehumidification systems in buildings are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) and are estimated to consume more than 40% of the nation’s electricity.

At the U of I, the administration and students are pursuing an aggressive strategy to obtain a sustainable campus environment and become carbon neutral by eliminating or offsetting GHG emissions as soon as possible, and no later than 2050. At the CIF, the goal is to exceed the per-building metrics proposed in the 2020 Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) by connecting the geothermal exchange system with radiant heating and cooling as part of an energy-efficient design that is expected to save ~2,839 million Btu (MMBtu) of energy per year and reduce GHG emissions by >70% compared to similarsized buildings. Nearly 65% of that energy load (~135 tons of heating and cooling capacity) will be supplied by the geothermal exchange system.

Unlike in western regions of the U.S. where hot fluids and steam in volcanic rocks are used to generate electricity or for direct heating, in the Midwest region geothermal energy systems typically use thermal exchange technologies that take advantage of the thermal energy stored in the Earth’s subsurface (typically within the upper 100–150 m [~330–500 ft]). Using geothermal heat pumps, refrigerant fluid or water is circulated through boreholes allowing heat to be absorbed or released to the ground (e.g., Lund 2002). The geothermal exchange system takes advantage of the constant ground temperature throughout the year below depths of ~10 m (~33 feet). The ground temperature below this depth is not impacted by seasonal changes in atmospheric conditions, and thus ground-based heating and cooling systems run more efficiently. Furthermore, geographic areas such as the U.S. Midwest region have a consistently variable climate (e.g., cold winters and hot summers), which can maximize the benefits offered by utilizing the natural thermal energy from the ground.

Borehole to reveal viability of campus’s geothermal future

Read the full story at Plant Engineering.

Cornell University is breaking ground on its geothermal energy efforts in order to be carbon-neutral by 2035 with a 2-mile borehole to determine feasibility.

Funding notice: Community Geothermal Heating and Cooling Design and Deployment

Office: Geothermal Technologies Office 
FOA number: DE-FOA-0002632  
Link to apply: Apply on EERE Exchange
FOA Amount: $13 million
Applications Due: October 11, 2022

On July 12, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Community Geothermal Heating and Cooling Design and Deployment Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which will award $300,000–$13 million for projects that help communities design and deploy geothermal district heating and cooling systems, create related workforce training, and identify and address environmental justice concerns. The FOA will help expand community-scale geothermal by supporting new systems and developing case studies to be replicated throughout the country. 

The FOA will support the formation of U.S.-based community coalitions that will develop, design, and install community geothermal heating and cooling systems that supply at least 25% of the heating and cooling load in communities. Eligible applications must demonstrate that switching to geothermal district heating and cooling system would result in greenhouse gas emission reductions for the community where the system is installed.

Widespread adoption of geothermal heating and cooling systems will help decarbonize the building and electricity sectors, reduce energy costs for families, and boost resilience. The FOA will also advance the objectives of DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) to realize the potential of community-scale geothermal heating and cooling nationwide.

GTO anticipates making approximately 1–10 awards under the initial phase of this FOA, with individual awards varying between $300,000 and $750,000. In the second phase, following a downselect, GTO anticipates making 1–4 awards, with individual awards between $2.5 million and $10 million.

Forming a Team to Apply

Circle illustrating the four roles needed in a community geothermal coalition: community voice deployment, analysis/design, and workforce.

GTO seeks diverse teams to form U.S. community coalitions including representatives for four key roles: 

  1. Community voice team member(s) who understand and can communicate the energy, environmental, economic, social, and/or other relevant needs that the proposed system would address, as well as local development and regulatory requirements. 
  2. Workforce team member(s) who know the community labor market and can help the coalition with apprenticeship opportunities, job placement, and developing training or lesson plans for the applicable trades. 
  3. Analysis/Design team member(s) who have experience designing geothermal systems as well as analyzing the economic and technical aspects of such systems. 
  4. Deployment team member(s) who have experience building new or retrofitting existing energy systems.

Examples of each role are in the FOA. Coalitions can be from urban, suburban, rural, remote, island, or islanded communities where geothermal can reduce dependence on fossil fuels such as natural gas or heating oil.

To assist coalition formation, GTO is providing a Teaming Partner List where interested parties can provide contact information and their expertise, which can be used by potential applicants or entities interested in partnering with other applicants for this FOA. The list will be updated at least biweekly until the close of the full application period, to reflect new teaming partners who have provided their information.

Key Dates

FOA Issue Date: July 12, 2022
Informational Webinar:  July 26, 2022, 12:00 p.m. ET Register here
Submission Deadline for Full Applications: October 11, 2022, 5:00 p.m. ET
Expected Date for EERE Selection Notifications: March 2023
Expected Timeframe for Award Negotiations: Spring 2023

Additional Information

Renewable energy project demonstrates efficiencies, benefits of clean energy geothermal systems

Read the full story from University of Illinois Extension.

The State of Illinois has committed to achieving a carbon-free footprint by 2050 through its recently passed Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. Plans to phase out coal-fired and natural gas power plants before 2045 means steps are needed now to move Illinois to a more sustainable future using renewable energy sources.

Geothermal energy, a natural source of renewable energy underground, is considered a consistent and efficient alternative for heating and cooling and provides a baseline source for the energy grid. Researchers and educators at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign say that geothermal energy could play an important role for Illinois to reach its zero-carbon emissions goal.

EERE Success Story—FORGE-ing Ahead with U.S. Geothermal

Geothermal energy, the “heat beneath our feet,” has the potential to provide enough power to supply more than 100 million U.S. homes around the clock. Most of that energy has been largely inaccessible, but that’s about to change.

American innovators and researchers are making progress exploring human-made geothermal reservoirs, which, along with technologies to capture and sustain this clean energy, are known as enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). Once mature, EGS technology will help the United States use a near-limitless resource across the country.

Conventional geothermal energy is typically harnessed where fluids, heat, and permeability—the ability for water to move through rock—coexist naturally in underground reservoirs. This combination is somewhat rare and restricted to certain geographic areas, but EGS technologies can produce energy nearly anywhere: Scientists could create a geothermal system wherever there is hot rock.

While EGS holds a lot of promise, it also faces technical challenges. That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) established the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE), a field laboratory in Milford, Utah, in 2018. At FORGE, researchers are  developing, testing, and improving technologies and techniques to create reliable EGS reservoirs.

In April, the Utah FORGE team conducted their first hydraulic stimulation. This process, which involves injecting fluid into rocks at high pressures to create new fractures, makes the rocks permeable and able to harness geothermal energy. Hydraulic stimulations are common in the oil and gas industry but have never been performed on a highly deviated well—a well at an angle exceeding 60 degrees for most of its depth—in the geothermal industry. Highly deviated wells enable better access to energy resources underground.

Though data is still being analyzed, initial results suggest the stimulation successfully created a geothermal reservoir. This is a key milestone in learning how to create a fully human-made geothermal reservoir that can be tapped to capture always-available electricity anywhere.

Once the precise boundaries of the new reservoir are located through data analysis, the FORGE team will drill a second full-size well in early 2023 into the new reservoir. The resulting well pairing is called a doublet; operators pump cold water down one well and hot water out of the other. The hot water pumped out of the reservoir carries the energy for electricity production. 

This doublet serves as the basis for the FORGE laboratory, where scientists can test their innovative EGS technologies and tools. In February 2021, DOE awarded $49 million to 17 research and development (R&D) projects to do just that, and projects are underway, as shown in the map below.

New R&D awards through FORGE fall into 5 categories: Devices suitable for use in high temperature wells Estimation of stress parameters Characterization of reservoir stimulation over time Specific stimulation and configuration at the FORGE site Integrating lab and modeling studies of the interactions among thermal, hydrological, mechanical and chemical processes.
FORGE R&D projects across the country

The FORGE initiative, including research, planning, drilling, and other site-specific development, is enabled by more than $200 million in federal investment, decades of public and private research, and the brilliant people working in geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is poised to make significant leaps with initiatives like FORGE and play a vital role in secure, domestic energy production. 

Learn more about the FORGE initiative and Utah FORGE site. For project updates and future FORGE research and development opportunities, sign up for The Drill Down, GTO’s monthly newsletter.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

DOE invests $6 million in geothermal heating and cooling technologies at federal facilities

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to receive up to $6 million to help expand the deployment of geothermal heating and cooling technology at federal sites. The federal government is the nation’s largest energy user, consuming nearly 1% of all end-use energy in the United States. Installing these carbon-free heating and cooling systems at federal sites will support President Biden’s goal to make the federal government carbon-neutral and help demonstrate the benefits and potential of this technology.  

“Geothermal heating and cooling is renewable, versatile, and critical to decarbonizing buildings as well as the economy as a whole,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “Scaling up deployment of geothermal heating and cooling technology on federal sites will help reduce costs and energy demand, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars and leading by example to decarbonize our economy.” 

This funding will provide technical assistance for geothermal energy deployment at federal sites, helping reduce or replace electricity demand, offset peak loads to the grid, and add resiliency and security to local energy systems.  

The team receiving this funding is led by ORNL and includes three other national labs, two universities, a state agency, and an industry partner who all bring strong expertise in the low-temperature geothermal space. ORNL and its partners—National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Illinois State Geological Survey, International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, Oklahoma State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison—will establish a technical assistance framework with an innovative workflow that will result in more accurate models and recommendations as well as deployment-ready reports. The team will also conduct data analysis, carry out resource characterization, perform site surveys, and design geothermal heating and cooling systems in support of deploying geothermal energy at federal sites. 

This effort supports and is enabled by the Federal Geothermal Partnership, a collaboration between the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) and the Federal Energy Management Program. 

How a few geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch and boost the EV battery industry

A pilot plant near the Salton Sea in California pairs lithium extraction with geothermal energy production. Michael McKibben

by Bryant Jones, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, University of California, Riverside

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change – for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places like California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is currently heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries – most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As a geologist who works with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.

A power plant surrounded by fields with a large lake behind it and mountains in the distance.
The Elmore geothermal plant near the Salton Sea began operating in 1989. Berkshire Hathaway Energy

Enough lithium to far exceed today’s US demand

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution located far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations – about 30% – of dissolved solids.

If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand.

How lithium is extracted during geothermal energy production. Courtesy of Controlled Thermal Resources.

Three geothermal operators at the Salton Sea geothermal field are in various stages of designing, constructing and testing pilot plants for direct lithium extraction from the hot brines.

At full production capacity, the 11 existing power plants near the Salton Sea, which currently generate about 432 megawatts of electricity, could also produce about 20,000 metric tons of lithium metal per year. The annual market value of this metal would be over $5 billion at current prices.

Satellite image of the Salton Sea showing a wide valley
The Salton Trough, seen from a satellite with the Salton Sea in the middle, is a rift valley that extends from east of Los Angeles, in the upper left, to the Gulf of California, visible at the bottom right. The San Andreas fault system crosses here, where two tectonic plates meet. Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory

Geopolitical risks in the lithium supply chain

Existing lithium supply chains are rife with uncertainties that put mineral security in question for the United States.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and competition with China, as well as close ties between Russia and China, underscore the geopolitical implications of the mineral-intensive clean energy transformation.

China is currently the leader in lithium processing and actively procures lithium reserves from other major producers. Chinese state mining operators often own mines in other countries, which produce other vital clean energy minerals like cobalt and nickel.

There is currently one lithium production facility in the U.S. That facility, in Nevada, extracts saline liquid and concentrates the lithium by allowing the water to evaporate in large, shallow ponds. In contrast, the process for extracting lithium while producing geothermal energy returns the water and brines to the earth. Adding another domestic source of lithium could improve energy and mineral security for the United States and its allies.

By pairing with geothermal power production, lithium extraction reduces the need for excess water consumption.

A lack of policy support

Geothermal power today represents less than 0.5% of the utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S.

One reason it remains a stagnant energy technology in the U.S. is the lack of strong policy support. Preliminary findings from a research study being conducted by one of us indicate that part of the problem is rooted in disagreements among older and newer geothermal companies themselves, including how they talk about geothermal energy’s benefits with policymakers, investors, the media and the public.

Geothermal power has the ability to complement solar and wind energy as a baseload power source – it is constant, unlike sunshine and wind – and to provide energy and mineral security. It could also offer a professional bridge for oil, gas and coal employees to transition into the clean energy economy.

The industry could benefit from policies like risk mitigation funds to lessen drilling exploration costs, grant programs to demonstrate innovations, long-term power contracts or tax incentives.

Adding the production of critical metals like lithium, manganese and zinc from geothermal brines could provide geothermal electrical power operators a new competitive advantage and help get geothermal onto the policy agenda.

Geothermal energy gets a boost in California

Trends might be moving in the right direction for geothermal energy producers.

In February, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new Preferred System Plan that encourages the state to develop 1,160 megawatts of new geothermal electricity. That’s on top of a 2021 decision to procure 1,000 megawatts from zero emissions, renewable, firm generating resources with an 80% capacity factor – which can only be met by geothermal technologies.

The California decisions were primarily meant to complement intermittent renewable energy, like solar and wind, and the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. They suggest that the era of geothermal as the forgotten renewable energy may be ending.

Bryant Jones, Ph.D. Candidate of Energy Policy, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, Research Professor of Geology, University of California, Riverside

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a breakthrough in geothermal could change our energy grid

Read the video transcript at Grist.

Newberry Volcano — the largest volcano in the Pacific Northwest — is the site of an experiment that’s aiming for a breakthrough in geothermal energy. 

How a few geothermal plants could solve America’s lithium supply crunch and boost the EV battery industry

A pilot plant near the Salton Sea in California pairs lithium extraction with geothermal energy production. Michael McKibben

by Bryant Jones, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, University of California, Riverside

Geothermal energy has long been the forgotten member of the clean energy family, overshadowed by relatively cheap solar and wind power, despite its proven potential. But that may soon change – for an unexpected reason.

Geothermal technologies are on the verge of unlocking vast quantities of lithium from naturally occurring hot brines beneath places like California’s Salton Sea, a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Lithium is essential for lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles and energy storage. Demand for these batteries is quickly rising, but the U.S. is currently heavily reliant on lithium imports from other countries – most of the nation’s lithium supply comes from Argentina, Chile, Russia and China. The ability to recover critical minerals from geothermal brines in the U.S. could have important implications for energy and mineral security, as well as global supply chains, workforce transitions and geopolitics.

As a geologist who works with geothermal brines and an energy policy scholar, we believe this technology can bolster the nation’s critical minerals supply chain at a time when concerns about the supply chain’s security are rising.

A power plant surrounded by fields with a large lake behind it and mountains in the distance.
The Elmore geothermal plant near the Salton Sea began operating in 1989. Berkshire Hathaway Energy

Enough lithium to far exceed today’s US demand

Geothermal power plants use heat from the Earth to generate a constant supply of steam to run turbines that produce electricity. The plants operate by bringing up a complex saline solution located far underground, where it absorbs heat and is enriched with minerals such as lithium, manganese, zinc, potassium and boron.

Geothermal brines are the concentrated liquid left over after heat and steam are extracted at a geothermal plant. In the Salton Sea plants, these brines contain high concentrations – about 30% – of dissolved solids.

If test projects now underway prove that battery-grade lithium can be extracted from these brines cost effectively, 11 existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea alone could have the potential to produce enough lithium metal to provide about 10 times the current U.S. demand. https://www.youtube.com/embed/oYtyEVPGEU8?wmode=transparent&start=0 How lithium is extracted during geothermal energy production. Courtesy of Controlled Thermal Resources.

Three geothermal operators at the Salton Sea geothermal field are in various stages of designing, constructing and testing pilot plants for direct lithium extraction from the hot brines.

At full production capacity, the 11 existing power plants near the Salton Sea, which currently generate about 432 megawatts of electricity, could also produce about 20,000 metric tons of lithium metal per year. The annual market value of this metal would be over $5 billion at current prices.

Satellite image of the Salton Sea showing a wide valley
The Salton Trough, seen from a satellite with the Salton Sea in the middle, is a rift valley that extends from east of Los Angeles, in the upper left, to the Gulf of California, visible at the bottom right. The San Andreas fault system crosses here, where two tectonic plates meet. Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory

Geopolitical risks in the lithium supply chain

Existing lithium supply chains are rife with uncertainties that put mineral security in question for the United States.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and competition with China, as well as close ties between Russia and China, underscore the geopolitical implications of the mineral-intensive clean energy transformation.

China is currently the leader in lithium processing and actively procures lithium reserves from other major producers. Chinese state mining operators often own mines in other countries, which produce other vital clean energy minerals like cobalt and nickel.

There is currently one lithium production facility in the U.S. That facility, in Nevada, extracts saline liquid and concentrates the lithium by allowing the water to evaporate in large, shallow ponds. In contrast, the process for extracting lithium while producing geothermal energy returns the water and brines to the earth. Adding another domestic source of lithium could improve energy and mineral security for the United States and its allies.

By pairing with geothermal power production, lithium extraction reduces the need for excess water consumption.

A lack of policy support

Geothermal power today represents less than 0.5% of the utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S.

One reason it remains a stagnant energy technology in the U.S. is the lack of strong policy support. Preliminary findings from a research study being conducted by one of us indicate that part of the problem is rooted in disagreements among older and newer geothermal companies themselves, including how they talk about geothermal energy’s benefits with policymakers, investors, the media and the public.

Geothermal power has the ability to complement solar and wind energy as a baseload power source – it is constant, unlike sunshine and wind – and to provide energy and mineral security. It could also offer a professional bridge for oil, gas and coal employees to transition into the clean energy economy.

The industry could benefit from policies like risk mitigation funds to lessen drilling exploration costs, grant programs to demonstrate innovations, long-term power contracts or tax incentives.

Adding the production of critical metals like lithium, manganese and zinc from geothermal brines could provide geothermal electrical power operators a new competitive advantage and help get geothermal onto the policy agenda.

Geothermal energy gets a boost in California

Trends might be moving in the right direction for geothermal energy producers.

In February, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new Preferred System Plan that encourages the state to develop 1,160 megawatts of new geothermal electricity. That’s on top of a 2021 decision to procure 1,000 megawatts from zero emissions, renewable, firm generating resources with an 80% capacity factor – which can only be met by geothermal technologies.

The California decisions were primarily meant to complement intermittent renewable energy, like solar and wind, and the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. They suggest that the era of geothermal as the forgotten renewable energy may be ending.

Bryant Jones, Ph.D. Candidate of Energy Policy, Boise State University and Michael McKibben, Research Professor of Geology, University of California, Riverside

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.