One of America's First Lithium Mines Could Be In The One Place Where A Lithium Mine Would Be An Improvement

GM is planning a lithium mine in the Salton Sea and that's fine by me ugh what a craphole

Image for article titled One of America's First Lithium Mines Could Be In The One Place Where A Lithium Mine Would Be An Improvement
Photo: California Agriculture/ Christopher Rymer (Other)

As you likely know, to make all of those batteries that store power for electric cars, an awful lot of the alkali metal lithium—the lightest solid element, in case you weren’t aware—is needed. It’s not particularly common, the 25th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and demand for it is growing, thanks to EVs. So it makes sense that GM would be interested in a lithium mine, and they’re talking about putting one in one of America’s most renowned shitholes, the Salton Sea.

Advertisement

GM has partnered with Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) to build a lithium mine at the Salton Sea in California. The Salton Sea is a lake created as an accidental byproduct of farm irrigation from the Colorado River, when a canal gate-head broke and dumped water into the Salton Basin, forming the 35 by 15 mile lake.

The area was a sort of resort in the 1950s, with hotels and lakehouses and all the associated mid-century leisure stuff that entails.

Image for article titled One of America's First Lithium Mines Could Be In The One Place Where A Lithium Mine Would Be An Improvement
Screenshot: Indy Star

By the 1980s, agricultural waste runoffs caused all kinds of problems, resulting in massive die-offs of bird and fish, the spreading of diseases, and a dramatic increase in water salinity, killing even more fish.

Eventually, the whole lake became a fetid, foul-smelling death-pond, littered with carcasses and bones and swarming with flies. I’ve been to the Salton Sea, a number of years back, and it is without a doubt one of the most revolting, miserable, unpleasant places I have ever been.

I love the desert, and enjoyed my time in Southern California’s deserts when I lived there. But the Salton Sea is different. It feels like a visceral example of everything going wrong, a skeleton-carpeted scorching blister of decay, smelling of death and remorse.

Advertisement

I remember being there and thinking some wooden structures by the shore were dark gray, but I was wrong; they just looked that way because they were absolutely covered with large, belligerent flies, fattened by bird and fish carcasses.

If you fell unconscious in LA and woke up in a rowboat in the middle of the Salton Sea, it would be entirely reasonable for you to think you had died and gone straight to Hell.

Advertisement

What I’m getting at here is that I can’t think of any place that would be made more pleasant by the presence of a lithium mine than the Salton Sea. I hope they turn the whole fucking place into a lithium mine. Sitting in a fluorescent-lit break-room trailer with a couple of vending machines, a wobbly card table, and a rusty fridge would be a far superior experience than standing on the shore of that salty nightmare.

Now, there is some concern that developing this hot, rank, fetid demon-pit into a lithium mine could be bad for migrating bird populations, who, for reasons lost to me, stop over at the Salton Sea, possibly out of some perverse avian sense of humor.

Advertisement

Or they’re tired and thirsty. I don’t know.

So, okay, that’s a downside. But can’t they build, oh, I don’t know, literally anything that will be better for the birds? Can’t we demand GM also builds a nearby water-filled hole that isn’t crammed solid with dead things for the birds to splash around in? Ornithologist gearheads, help me out here. There has to be some way of making something artificial that’s better than this already artificial shithole.

Advertisement

So, yeah, the lithium mine. It appears that the plan is to piggyback on a geothermal power plant in the area, CTR’s Salton Sea Geothermal Field, and will be part of their Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power development.

The lithium will be extracted from the briny water of the area in a closed loop with the geothermal power generation, which is explained (in simplified form) in this animation:

Basically, hot brine is pulled from the geothermal source, and is split into steam to drive the turbines and a concentrated brine, which then is processed to produce lithium carbonate, with the remaining water returned into the earth, in a continuous cycle of hot brine-to-power-to-lithium-carbonate.

Advertisement

Ordinarily, the creation of a new mining operation would raise all kinds of ecological concerns about the area it’s going to be in. But, not this time! The Salton Sea, again, is a shithole! Go ahead and get lithium out of it!

Do whatever! It can’t get any worse, right?

Right?

 

DISCUSSION

By
The Fanciest Cat

The area was a sort of resort in the 1950s, with hotels and lakehouses and all the associated mid-century leisure stuff that entails.


Not sort of. It was a resort area. Part of why the Salton Sea captures people’s imaginations is because of how quickly and completely it stopped being a resort area.


That said...

If you fell unconscious in LA and woke up in a rowboat in the middle of the Salton Sea, it would be entirely reasonable for you to think you had died and gone straight to Hell.


This is absolutely true. It’s rough out there. It looks and feels like a damned Fallout game. I had to do a job in the nearby town of Mecca, CA (which, to be clear is not run down and gross like the Salton Sea area we’re talking about) and 5 miles from the Salton Sea, the ground was covered in salt. It was also really fucking hot. It’s the kind of place where you start working at sunrise to avoid the heat.


Also, I don’t see any indication they’re getting rid of the Salton Sea to build the lithium mine, so it will still be there. If anything the money it brings to the area could be used to help with restoring wetlands and cleaning the area up. There are lots of plans out there for how to move forward. It’s mostly just a matter of the state and local governments getting their shit together and picking one like they should have 25+ years ago.

Anyway, here’s Huell Howser with his usual infectious enthusiasm visiting the Salton Sea in 1999. I’m pretty sure him visiting a low rider show is next in the queue, so enjoy that, too.