CO2 sequestration research stumbles onto something useful: a big lithium strike in Wyoming

Guest post by Alec Rawls

Most lithium (the lightest metal) is now mined in the Andes (image above), but it looks like the U.S. has more than a little of it too:

[T]he Rock Springs Uplift’s 18 million tons of potential lithium reserves is equivalent to roughly 720 years of current global lithium production.

Nice.

University of Wyoming researchers found the lithium while studying the idea of storing carbon dioxide underground in the Rock Springs Uplift, a geologic formation in southwest Wyoming.

The lithium is dissolved in a brine solution. Pump the brine out, goes the UW thinking, and you’ve got a nice space to bury some CO2.

The sequestration part is a non-starter, given that the external value of atmospheric CO2 is unambiguously positive. If anything we should be subsidizing its release, not trying to contain it, but since taxpayers are stuck financing this politicized research it’s nice to see something positive come from it. We’ll take the lithium and the greens can have the hole.

Has there already been a breakthrough in lithium battery technology, combining super-capacitor charge and discharge rates with high density energy storage? That’s what some researchers at the University of Illinois are claiming on a micro scale, and they seem to be suggesting that their battery architecture could be scalable.

That would be revolutionary, even making intermittent energy sources and battery powered vehicles practical, so by all means let’s encourage the carbon-sequestration fantasists to look for more lithium formations that could theoretically be useful for storing CO2. Hey, its not impossible that we could want to one-day store some carbon dioxide. After all, it is valuable stuff, and those lithium mines sound like an excellent place to put it. Just got to get the lithium out first.

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40 thoughts on “CO2 sequestration research stumbles onto something useful: a big lithium strike in Wyoming

  1. Idle musings:
    Wonder what would happen if you stuck a couple of big cables in at each end? Gotta have more juice than a potato clock.
    It would be ironic if it were a ferrous ore deposit but since it’s lithium ore, than what would it be?

  2. Good news about the lithium brine. The element is not scarce, but sufficient concentrations for economic production at something close to today are important. Good to hear the US has some.
    As for energy storage, new inventions are always welcome, but not necessary for advances to continue. One very promising option (originally shown at Argonne) is a more energy dense LiIon battery, which costs less but has less power. The power surges ( both charge and discharge) come from the supercaps. Those will become about 1.5x better energy and power density, and about 20-30% less costly, given new NanoCarbons materials now goong into production after years of development. The system is completed with a Dc/Dc converter to prevent the battery from clamping the cap module (since cap voltage is a linear function of charge, while battery voltage is not). The Dc/Dc electronics costs are coming down by a factor of four owing to faster and more efficient SiC IGBTs. Argonne estimates that such a ‘hybrid’ system would cut the the cost of the Chevy Volt energy storage pack ( battery only today) in half.
    Whether or not the Volt is a good idea, many lesser variants are, and the economics are similar.
    Sometimes, a multi component system works just as good as some miraculous new invention of a single device.
    But we still need all that lithium for those rocking chair mechanism LiIons.

  3. I’m a bit nervous about high density supercapacity / battery storage.

    Say you wanted to store the output of a 1GW renewable installation for 1 day of operation (so you could supply power on say a cloudy day).

    You would need to store 1GW x 1day
    = 1,000,000,000 watts x 86400 seconds
    = 8.6 x 10^13 joules

    By an interesting coincidence, Little Boy, the nuclear bomb which destroyed Hiroshima, released 6.3 x 10^13 joules

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Boy

    So if your supercapacitor facility ever suffered sudden catastrophic dieletric failure, or if the batteries overheated and exploded, the resulting energy release would be indistinguishable from a 10 kiloton nuclear explosion.

    Hydrocarbon energy is dangerous, but compared to what could happen in a supercapacity disaster or a battery disaster, they seem like the safe option.

  4. Besides it’s use in flaming laptop computers, short range Tesla autos and failed Boeing Dreamliner batteries, Lithium is useful in treating the “manic episodes of manic depression” according to

    http://drugs.com/lithium.html

    Symptoms of manic depression include “hyperactivity, rushed speech, poor judgment, reduced need for sleep, aggression and anger”. Sounds like the treatment some of the Warmists might need.

    but then there are risks http://drugs.com/sfx/lithium-side-effects.html

    [the problem with Earth....there's always something]

  5. Rock Springs is no stranger to mining. Historically they mined a lot of coal there. Presently the area is big for mining trona (a sodium carbonate compound–think baking soda and soda ash). Also lots of oil. My son is a mining engineer there. He mentioned this lithium find weeks ago. The solution mining process seems to be a very good way to extract the minerals, without a lot of surface degradation.

  6. Hmm…this could be a new approach for those seeking oil drilling permits: “Hey, we’ll pump out the oil, and replace it with carbon dioxide…!” Has a sort of appealing symmetry to it…for some, perhaps.

  7. This is an important lithium resource, but not a lithium reserve. And it will have a hard time competing against the Salar de Atacama, where the lithium containing brine is only a couple of meters below the surface, and where all that free solar energy is available to evaporate the water from the brine to concentrate the lithium chloride. Sounds to me as if the Wyoming brines are pretty deep, which means pretty expensive to lift to the surface. But isn’t it nice to know that it is there.

    And BTW, we have been pumping CO2 down oil wells for decades. That is a common and effective technique to stimulate production from depleted oil reservoirs.

  8. Eric Worrall is right. You don’t want to build a battery so big it has the energy equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. Lets make lots of smaller batteries with the lithium. The wind blows all the time in Rock Springs, so here is my suggestion: First mine the lithium; dig a big hole. Then set up wind mills to compress air inside the giant, empty, lithium mine. Use the compressed air to generate electricity on a schedule rather than just when the wind happens to blow – peaking power. The Jim Bridger generating station is right there at Rock Springs. It’s a ten megawatt behemoth and it has a tremendous transmission grid interconnected with six western states. Use the lithium to make many small batteries, use the mine to store compressed air, use the compressed air to generate scheduled electricity on demand, use the pre-existing network of transmission lines to transmit the power.

  9. George is correct about stimulating oil wells by pumping CO2 down them As for pumping brine from deep below the surface, Wyoming has incredible wind potential that could power the pumps.

  10. [DISCLAIMER: Despite, for the sake of argument, writing the following, I do not think CO2 burying has ANY value. It is COMPLETELY a waste of time.]

    The lakes where I live remain quite cold in the summer. When I was a little kid, when we went swimming, even if it was a hot day, if there was a little breeze, we felt cold as we scurried up the beach to go eat our Cheetos and drink some pop and eat a Twinkie (those were the days!). Thinking of five-year-old: “Brrrr! Too cold. That sand looks so nice and warm… .” And we’d fling ourselves down, aaaah, all toasty again. Get up. Look down. Oh, well, back into the water.

    Since I turned 11 or so, I haven’t done that since.

    Moral: When a malady’s cure results in reintroducing the malady’s cause, the cure is at the very least, useless and likely a waste of resources, not the least of which is time.
    ****************************************************************************************

    “… sequestration part is a non-starter,… .” ["CO2 Sequestration Research", Alec Rawls, 5/2/13]

    1) “… given that the external value of atmospheric CO2 is unambiguously positive. … .” [Ibid.]

    2) [AND POSSIBLY (here's where my sandy metaphor comes in)] Given CO2 necessarily released to make the storage happen, it may be that there would either be a ZERO net reduction of CO2 or a NET GAIN in atmospheric CO2 levels.

    **********************************
    Thanks for the interesting and informative article, Mr. Rawls.

  11. The lithium mining, on the other hand, if cost effective, sounds great.

    (I just add this in case it appeared from my post above that to be against CO2 burying was to be against lithium mining.)

  12. Tom Norkunas says:
    May 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm
    Lithium? Brine? Salt and Battery? *ducks*
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    If there isn’t “quip of the week” category, then one should be created just for that line.

  13. After Boeing’s expensive adventure with lithium, I think it will be a while before demand ramps up. The original weight saving using lithium ion batteries has been negated by the fireproof steel box that Boeing came up with to get the 787’s back in the air.

    i’d bet a nickel they’ll have NiCad batteries as an option in later production aircraft.

    Tom Norkunas: good one.
    ditto ironic H.R.

  14. Pete Olson, 6.40…
    As for pumping out oil to store CO2, that’s been going on for decades. CO2 injection is one of the proven techniques for enhanced oil recovery.
    Maybe the oil companies have missed a trick – they could have got their snouts in the trough for massive green grants if they had called it something like “pilot research into CO2 sequestration by hydrocarbon displacement” !!
    Makes me wonder if there are any renewable certificates they could apply for as well.

  15. Anyone who really thinks you should store the energy equivalent of a thermonuclear device in a reactive chemical battery needs his head examined. Storing gW wind/solar surplus in batteries is asinine, already tiny packs they explode regularly. NIMBY that’s for damned sure.

  16. Paul Martin says:
    May 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    It would be ionic if the deposit were lithium carbonate.

  17. Lithium is an anti-depressant (e.g. Nirvana, Evanescence) so this find will be good news for CAGW supporters despondant at the lack of global warming.

  18. Most Greens are not only aethist but also concerned about using valuable land (for biomass?) as burial sites. One use would be to off free cremation services and ash sequesteration. Since there’s little need for haste, all those near useless windmills/solar panels could be used to run the crematorium. A perfect solution. Not only is no CO2 used but their own carbon and scrubbed emissions would be forever buried until they turnedd into coal, or oil or natural gas. Just imagine if they all did this? Oh, and we, unlike many Greens, would wait until they died from natual causes.

  19. Pete Olson says:
    May 2, 2013 at 6:40 pm
    “Hey, we’ll pump out the oil, and replace it with carbon dioxide…!”
    =========
    the oil industry has been doing this for years. the only difference is now they want to get paid for it. same with carbon taxes. they push up the price of coal much more than oil, again helping the oil industry.

    make no mistake, the oil industry stands to gain most from the push to “green”. by eliminating competition for coal in the US via EPA regulations, they know well all that is left is gas or oil.

    The reason “climate scientists” are so quick to claim skeptics are in the pay of “big oil” is to deflect attention from the truth of the matter. Maurice Strong was a Canadian Oil Man that got the ball rolling, Enron dreamed up the plan, and the oil companies and bankers are providing the money to push the press, politicians and scientists in the right direction. The aim is quite simple, to take money from poor people and give rich people, in the name of saving the planet.

  20. willybamboo says:
    May 2, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    “Eric Worrall is right. You don’t want to build a battery so big it has the energy equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. Lets make lots of smaller batteries with the lithium. The wind blows all the time in Rock Springs, so here is my suggestion: First mine the lithium; dig a big hole. Then set up wind mills to compress air inside the giant, empty, lithium mine. Use the compressed air to generate electricity on a schedule rather than just when the wind happens to blow – peaking power. The Jim Bridger generating station is right there at Rock Springs. It’s a ten megawatt behemoth and it has a tremendous transmission grid interconnected with six western states. Use the lithium to make many small batteries, use the mine to store compressed air, use the compressed air to generate scheduled electricity on demand, use the pre-existing network of transmission lines to transmit the power.”

    You are off by two orders of magnitude, Jim Bridger is (4) ~500 MW units, a total of 2.1 GW.

  21. H.R. says:
    May 2, 2013 at 5:54 pm
    “Idle musings:

    It would be ironic if it were a ferrous ore deposit but since it’s lithium ore, than what would it be?”

    Lithargic? Lethargic?
    It will be rockin’ if we’re not too petrified to exploit it.

  22. The Rock Springs uplift is a geologic feature, a giant forland structure. If you have Google Earth, you can easily view the anticline by going to Rock Springs, WY, then zoom out a lot. The brine is coming from the Madison formation, a very porous limestone that covers much of Wyoming and Montana. This formation forms many of the large white cliffs in Wyoming and was the cause of the deaths in Madison Canyon, MT during the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake. For a more accurate description of the lithium discovery see:

    http://www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/2013/04/uw-researchers-lithium-discovery-could-boost-co2-storage-prospects.html

    The article also states that they are getting brine from the Weber/Tensleep formations. These formations are porous sandstones that were once sand dunes.

    Marty

  23. Burying CO2 in the ground… tsk, tsk, tsk.

    We cannot hide our Carbonshame from Gaia by burying our Carbonshame inside Gaia.

  24. Lithium is extracted from ores by adding CO2:
    Li2CO3 + CO2 + H2O → 2 LiHCO3
    The product, lithium bicarbonate LiHCO3, is much more soluble than the simple carbonate Li2CO3.
    Adding CO2 to a brine permeating a lithium-rich salt matrix will dissolve the lithium into the brine by forming the bicarbonate, which is about 10x more soluble than the carbonate.
    The brine can then be pumped out and depressurized to recover FAR more lithium than the brine originally bore.
    Lithium is the key ingredient in MANY ‘green’ (read “lightweight rechargeable”) batteries.
    Of course, the depressurization gives you all your CO2 back. ;)

  25. tadchem says:
    May 3, 2013 at 11:36 am
    Lithium is extracted from ores by adding CO2:
    Li2CO3 + CO2 + H2O → 2 LiHCO3
    The product, lithium bicarbonate LiHCO3, is much more soluble than the simple carbonate Li2CO3.
    Adding CO2 to a brine permeating a lithium-rich salt matrix will dissolve the lithium into the brine by forming the bicarbonate, which is about 10x more soluble than the carbonate.
    The brine can then be pumped out and depressurized to recover FAR more lithium than the brine originally bore.
    Lithium is the key ingredient in MANY ‘green’ (read “lightweight rechargeable”) batteries.
    Of course, the depressurization gives you all your CO2 back. ;)

    That would be efficient, it would only work if the Lithium Carbonate dissolved in the brine is in contact with the solid Lithium matrix.

  26. If you think the wind blows in Wyoming, you should see (or better, feel) the wind in the Atacama Desert of Chile where much of the lithium comes from. Summer afternoon winds frequently reach and maintain 100 kph across those flats. This helps the evaporation which concentrates the brines, but the waves on the concentration ponds are a problem.

    But the chemical companies operating there chose to use electricity from the national grid to power their pumps to lift the brine, not windmills.

  27. Steve F – is that 2.1 GW annual production capacity for Jim Bridger? I read something that total annual US solar output is under 2 GW.

  28. Senores, it’s a salt. Have they even looked in Utah and Nevada in the enormous evaporate basins of Lake Bonneville? Or is it an exclusive residue of the Mesozoic evaporate basins of Wyoming?

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