Massive lithium deposit sits under Nevada volcano

The clay mixture from which lithium is extracted. Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

If there was a wager afoot that we couldn’t find a way to use “smectite-bearing sediments” in a sentence, we would have just come out on top.

Actually, here’s the whole sentence: “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.”

We aren’t saying we understand what all that from means, but the general hypothesis here is that a volcanic crater formed 16 million years ago near the Nevada-Oregon border contains millions of tons of lithium, a primary ingredient in today’s lithium-ion electric car batteries. The location is called Thacker Pass. The deposit was discovered several years ago but is only now is it getting mainstream attention.

Again, according to “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.”

The upshot here is twofold: One, that we may not have to reach outside the U.S. for lithium for batteries, and two, that I was wise to avoid chemistry and geology in college.

“The material could be best described as looking ‘a bit like brown potter’s clay’, says Christopher Henry, emeritus professor of geology at the University of Nevada in Reno. “It is extremely uninteresting, except that it has so much lithium in it.’’ So says a story on

“There’s been a lot of searching for additional [lithium] deposits,” Henry adds. “The United States has just one small lithium-producing brine operation in Nevada.” Thacker Pass may be the largest deposit of lithium in the world. Previously the largest deposit was thought to be in Bolivia.

Mining is expected to begin by 2026 and last for about 40 years. However, the mine is facing opposition by Native tribes such as the Shoshone Paiute that reside in the area, and the conflict is likely to end up in court. “The world needs to know that this lithium mining, and this fast tracking of lithium mining, is a continuation of racism on Paiute and Shoshone people,” Gary McKinney, an enrolled member of the Shoshone Paiute Tribe, told NPR.




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    Definitely not. But if we are headed down this suicidal path, at least we have our own weapons of self-destruction, and don’t need to rely on the Chinese. Yeah I know, my glass is half full.

    Maybe add another paragraph to this giving a bit more of the context of what Gary McKinney is alluding to?

    There’s horror-movie level footage out there of other lithium operations, so pretty easy to rile the internet on the topic…

    Properly done mining at the strip level does not trash the environment. There are examples in Pennsylvania of restoration. Once the strip mining is completed you must include the cost of restoration into the whole process. I.e. one cannot let the mining company walk away from the site once the profit has been made on the minerals. Just IMHO

    They tell us the mining of coal or drilling for oil is bad but mining for lithium or cobalt is better? Riiiiigghhhhht.

    Nothing ever stays in its container forever. I don’t have a doctorate, but concentrated elements in a chemistry concoction can’t be long term healthy either.

    Really “nice” video presentation and I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn if you’re interested!!! Why do I distrust this project? Too much to get into here…

    Well, there is that once lithium is mined it is recycled. Hard to do that with coal or other fossil fuels. Also, cobalt is being phased out of batteries. Plus no one seems to be mentioning all of the cobalt being used, one time, in the refining of fossil fuels.

    Just remember lithium is only used to store energy, not create it. You still need fossil fuels to create the energy because we can never ever produce enough for our needs with wind and solar. Just a fact. I’m sure our politicians that are pushing the electric cars already knew about this lithium and are highly invested in it. That’s why they are pushing this so hard. You can never get rid of fossil fuels or government corruption.

    If there is one thing that will guarantee the next big advancement in battery tech, it would be the abundant, easy, availability of the most need element of the current tech. Especially, if that is available in the US.

    So an “enrolled member” of the tribe found racist geology in the area. Could he be a dues paying lawyer preparing to sue the project??

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