daily californian logo


Apply to The Daily Californian!

Berkeley Lab investigates potential domestic lithium source in Imperial Valley

article image


The Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area, or SS KGRA, in Southern California’s Imperial Valley is being explored as a potential domestic source of lithium for the United States.


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

JANUARY 30, 2023

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Lithium Resource Research and Innovation Center and Energy Storage Center are currently studying the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area, or SS KGRA, in Southern California’s Imperial Valley as a potential domestic source of lithium for the United States.

The lithium is located in hot, salty water thousands of feet below the Salton Sea, according to Meg Slattery, a PhD student at UC Davis. It is expected to offer the most sustainable source of lithium on Earth, said Will Stringfellow, research engineer at Berkeley Lab, in an email.

“LBNL is conducting research investigating the amount of lithium available in the SS KGRA (i.e. defining the resource), examining potential environmental impacts from lithium production, and conducting educational outreach activities concerning the SS KGRA and lithium production,” Stringfellow said in an email.

In recent years, lithium has become an increasingly important material, as it is used to make batteries for electric vehicles, Slattery said. There are concerns over its sustainability: according to a Berkeley Lab press release, opponents of mining lithium from hard rock claim it harms the environment.

However, the brine under the Salton Sea is already brought to the surface to create steam for geothermal electricity production, Slattery said. Lithium would not be mined from hard rock, and its extraction would just be another step in the current process, she noted.

“Domestic lithium production from geothermal brines is expected to have a lower carbon footprint, lower water use, and less land impact than lithium from mining or brine ponds,” Stringfellow said in the email.

After attending community and public meetings over the past two years, Slattery said she has observed that locals are mainly concerned about the implications of lithium production on public health, water and jobs.

She is focusing on community outreach near Salton Sea, ensuring that researchers practice transparency and reflect the needs of those communities in their work.

“It’s a way of making sure that the perspective of these generally underrepresented communities is reflected in the scientific research,” Slattery said.

As the region near Salton Sea experiences high rates of respiratory diseases, local communities are most concerned about whether lithium extraction will have an impact on public health, Slattery said. This creates a need to address public health during research and be open with the community, she noted.

The researchers plan to have initial results on the amount of lithium under the Salton Sea and the potential environmental impacts of lithium extraction by March, Stringfellow said in the email.

“The US is dependent on lithium and batteries from overseas,” Stringfellow said in the email. “There is a national interest in developing domestic lithium resources and battery manufacturing so that our economy is less subject to supply chain disruptions.”

To put more electric vehicles on its roads, the U.S. requires a significant amount of lithium, the need for which is not fulfilled by its singular active lithium mine located in Nevada, according to the press release.

The U.S. currently provides less than 2% of the world’s lithium supply, but the SS KGRA has the potential to supply enough lithium for American domestic battery needs with a surplus, according to the press release.

“The Salton Sea … is an example of where people are really making an attempt to do mineral extraction right and be very intentional about minimizing the environmental impact and paying attention to how it’s benefiting the local community,” Slattery said.

Contact Eleanor Jonas at 


JANUARY 31, 2023