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Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has lithium for electric vehicle batteries

Mackey’s research, recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, says that salt water found deep in the Marcellus Shale (and brought to the surface during gas production) could satisfy between 38% and 40% of the current domestic demand for lithium, which is estimated at 3,000 metric tons per year. But that demand is expected to increase to 340,000 metric tons by 2032.

Lithium is currently considered one of the most essential components for the energy transition. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are lightweight and can store a lot of energy. They power electric vehicles, computers, iPhones and large battery storage facilities.

“So we’re going to need a lot of lithium if we want to decarbonize all of these things,” Mackey said.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Act requires electric vehicle batteries to use domestically sourced raw materials by 2030. The goal of the law was to reduce dependence on Chinese sources of lithium and will likely increase domestic demand. The Biden administration also recently imposed high tariffs on batteries and electric vehicles from China.

More than half of the world’s lithium supply is mined from underground brine deposits in Chile and the Atacama Desert in Argentina, and then shipped to China to be processed into lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, which is then used to make lithium ion batteries.

David Boutt, a hydrogeologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the study, said the analysis shows that the Marcellus Shale could be a great source of lithium.

“These are very high lithium concentrations. And some of them are approaching the lithium concentrations that we see in (South America),” said Boutt, who researches lithium systems in the United States, Canada and South America. He said in South America there is concern about excessive water extraction in an arid landscape.

“So having a source of lithium in what is essentially a waste product is a really important step,” he said. “I think the way to get (sufficient supply) is to have multiple sources of lithium that have a low water and carbon footprint.”

But extracting lithium from wastewater is not easy, Boutt said, and would require a lot of energy.

While the United States has very little current domestic supply, it does have the world’s first lithium mine in Nevada. The Silver Peak Mine extracts lithium through hard rock mining, which consumes a lot of energy and water. The Department of Energy just agreed to a $2.26 billion loan to help launch another lithium mine in Thacker Pass, Nevada.

A new domestic source of lithium from brine is the Smackover Formation of Arkansas, operated by Standard Lithium. Exxon Mobil has invested heavily in lithium production in that formation.

But questions remain about the economic viability of extracting lithium from Marcellus Shale wastewater.

A company operating in the Marcellus Shale has already begun developing a process to extract lithium from wastewater. Eureka Resources reported in July that it “extracted 97% pure lithium carbonate from oil and natural gas brines from production activities with a recovery rate of up to 90%.”

The company is headquartered in Williamsport and operates two wastewater treatment facilities in Pennsylvania. It says it uses a closed-loop system that combines “physical and chemical treatment, concentration and crystallization,” similar to the process it uses to extract and sell salts, such as sodium chloride and calcium chloride. In the press release, he said he hopes to sell lithium within two years.

But Boutt said oil and gas companies are unlikely to rush to sell lithium. “There is a lot of work to be done to make battery-grade lithium,” he said.

And once the lithium is extracted, there is still the problem of disposing of the remaining wastewater that could still contain toxic substances, whether it is used to frack another well or sent to a deep injection well. for disposal.