back to article NASA and miners face off over lithium deposits at satellite calibration site

NASA's rights to a Nevada desert playa that's used for calibrating Earth-observing satellites is facing a challenge, as lithium miners say they need the land to develop the US battery industry. railroad-valley-playa The Railroad Valley playa in Nevada (click to enlarge). Pic credit: UCGS The US Bureau of Land Management in …

  1. Death Boffin
    Alien

    Beyond Area 51

    Railroad Valley is really the middle of nowhere. Leave Tonopah headed east, 50 miles beyond the turnoff for Area 51. Count the cars you see for the next 100 miles, chances are you will only reach the teens.

    Railroad Valley also has possibly the only oil deposits in Nevada. The field is at the north end of the playa.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The mine is mine!

    No, it's mine!

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: The mine is mine!

      So that must be the last lithium on the planet, right? They have to mine that deposit as there are no other options.

      Politics, makes me retch.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: The mine is mine!

        of course not

        Brine/salt deposits are fossil oceans and there's a lot of all the minerals in question in seawater - in this instance nature has preconcentrated them by removing most of the water

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If this is unique then it must be counted an incredible stroke of luck that it exists at all. What would NASA have done if it had never existed?

    1. Paul Kinsler

      What would NASA have done if it had never existed?

      At a wild guess, they would have had to use some less satisfactory location, and make do with less well-calibrated satellites.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    [3PL] "will not degrade the playa or disturb the surface in any way"

    And, a few paragraphs later : "we're a brine salt mining company".

    Seems to me that brine is liquid, and IIRC, on this planet liquids flow down. So 3PL could very well set up shop in the non-preserved area and start extracting brine, the brine in the preserved area is not going to magically not flow to the extraction area.

    Let 3PL come back with tech that they can demonstrate won't disturb the surface, then talks can start.

    But who am I kidding ? There's money to be made, and the party that reversed Roe vs Wade wants it. NASA's going to have to find some other solution.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Republicans and science

    Don’t mix.

  6. Chipwidget

    NASA is safe

    In analysing mining opportunities for investment there are a few danger signs. These include 1) using new technology (that may never eventuate) and 2) Extracting the entire periodic table (or at least 10 of). My guess is these guys are planning to extract their profits from the shareholders and government grants. They've clearly got the latter sorted

    1. Menard

      Re: NASA is safe

      Scientists at 3PL have about 10 or 20 scientific publications on the discovery, including one with the AAPG last year. The deposit looks pretty unique. They claim 85 billion tons of valuable salts and 23 billion barrels of brine. Maybe they are trying to mine the valuable deposits? Why would NASA not study the economic impact of mining when the withdrawal was considered (EA vs EIS)? Are they hiding something? In other words, maybe this is a valuable deposit.

  7. John Robson Silver badge

    Your current satellites only need a small area

    This one that would have needed more got cancelled - so there will never be a need for more than a postage stamp of calibration surface.

    I mean the fact that they know of a bird which would require that surface for calibration rather suggests that the area should be preserved for calibration.

  8. Martin Summers Silver badge

    So they're accusing NASA of photoshopping images to make spurious claims? That's quite a big allegation there. If only someone had a satellite pointed at the area to verify such claims.

    1. Menard

      NASA published the alleged false images

      3PLOperating.com has a website, and one page is about NASA. They reference a publication made by NASA in 2018 at the American Geophysical Union meeting, and there is a link to the document. It looks to me like NASA has laid out an anti-mining story here, and that there are evaporation ponds in the photos.

  9. TVU Silver badge

    "What about lithium?..." Amodei said.

    ^ You ought perhaps to concentrate more on the burgeoning area of sodium ion batteries especially since there is no shortage of accessible sodium sources on this planet.

    https://www.technologyreview.com/2023/05/11/1072865/how-sodium-could-change-the-game-for-batteries/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "When you look at that chemical reality, it’s almost no wonder that lithium-ion batteries have exploded"

      "in popularity since their commercial debut in the 1990s."

  10. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    You want lithium

    We've* got lithium. It's not actually in short supply in the ground – the problem's merely, that at the moment, we can't dig it up fast enough.

    *Australia that is.

  11. Ochib

    Well Ukraine has about 500,000 tons of lithium oxide and other rare earth metals.

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