Terra Verde

California’s Budding Lithium Industry

As the green energy transition speeds up, demand for lithium — used in electric car batteries — is skyrocketing. Currently, the bulk of the global lithium supply comes from Australia and Chile, but as demand increases, countries around the world are looking to tap into their reserves. In the United States, the quest for this in-demand metal involves California, which has one of the world’s largest known lithium reserves, located in Southern California’s Imperial County, near the Salton Sea. These reserves have yet to be commercially developed, but companies are itching to start.

geothermal plant in california
In California’s Imperial County, lithium extraction proposals are tied to geothermal plants that produce low-carbon electricity by extracting brine from geothermal wells. Photo by Chuck Holland.

The lithium in Imperial County is located in hot brine. If done right, extraction from hot brine might be less damaging than other forms of extraction, namely that from bedrock and salt flats. But the technology involved remains unproven, and the industry comes with real risks to the air, water, and more. Locals are pushing to make sure potential costs are factored into decisions around extraction in the region, which already experiences far more than its fair share of environmental pollution; that community members have a voice in the decision-making process; and that any extraction in the region ultimately benefits the local community.

Christian Torres, special projects manager with Comite Civico Del Valle, Inc, and Jared Naimark, California mining organizer with Earthworks, join Terra Verde host and managing editor Zoe Loftus-Farren to discuss the state of lithium extraction in Imperial County, the possible environmental and health impacts, and the fight to give community members a seat at the table.