back to article Lithium goldrush hits sleepy Oregon-Nevada border

A lithium find in the McDermitt Caldera region on the border between US states of Oregon and Nevada has excited media attentions with the promise of lithium deposits exceeding those in Bolivia, which make up nearly a quarter of the world's resources. Abandoned Mining Complex Property, Buildings and Tower - McDermitt Mine …

  1. Jim Mitchell

    One of the key factors in natural resources is the amount recoverable at what price. I don't see that in this article.

    1. Tom 7

      Given they are in alluvial deposits within the crater I'm guessing this is on the low side.

  2. vtcodger Silver badge

    You can never have too much Lithium

    You can never be too rich or too thin or have too many Lithium reserves.

    Seriously, Lithium batteries have some problems -- especially their lamentable tendency to, on rare occasions self-immolate, often destroying not only themselves but everything remotely combustible nearby. But they are the best we currently have for many applications where energy density is important. They are likely going to be around for a long time. 7 or 8 ir 10 billion humans are probably going to want/need a lot of Lithium. Discovery of deposits is almost certainly a good thing even if the aren't currently economically viable.

    1. blackcat Silver badge

      Re: You can never have too much Lithium

      We'd have more if idiots were not busy throwing them away in disposable vapes.

      The numbers are INSANE.

    2. Adair Silver badge

      Re: You can never have too much Lithium

      especially their lamentable tendency to, on rare occasions self-immolate - Not my field, but I strongly suspect that any chemical matrix holding a high energy density is going to have the same 'lamentable tendency' once integrity is broken and the chain reaction starts. Unless, of course, ways can be found to surround each cell/group of cells in some kind of inhibitor gunge* that stops the chain reaction.

      * a technical term.

      1. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: You can never have too much Lithium

        @Adair: That's an entirely reasonable assumption. But I think it's somewhat flawed. For example, metal-air (Zinc-air, Aluminum-air) have significantly higher energy densities than Lithium-ion and aren't (anywhere near as) subject to thermal runaway. So why are we messing around with Lion? Simple. Currently practical metal-air batteries are primary cells -- not rechargeable. Pretty much restricted to hearing aids and a few similar applications. Lion OTOH is not only rechargeable, if not abused, it can be recharged a lot of times before performance degrades significantly.

        Choice of battery chemistries involves juggling a bunch of considerations. Energy density, temperature range, self-discharge rate, tendency toward thermal runaway, outgassing, toxicity, number of recharges, etc, etc, etc.

        I'm not an expert on batteries. Probably others around here know much more than I and might tell us more.

        FWIW, my impression is that the holy grail of transportation batteries would be a metal-air battery (possibly Aluminum-air?) with mass, range, safety parameters comparable to fossil fuel. The vision is that you'll haul into a service station, make use of the facilities, buy an overpriced snack, pull out your old degraded Aluminum anodes, throw them in a recycle bin, insert new ones, and be on your way. "They" have been working on that for 40 years. They can't even run a demo today. ... Maybe in another 40 years. ... Maybe never.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's Worstall?

    When the middle kingdom tried to restrict mining of "rare" earth metals, the Regs then TW wrote a great piece about how it was guaranteed to fail, as raising the price artificially merely serves to make previously uneconomic deposits, economic.

    Cornish tin being a good exemplar.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Where's Worstall?

      He'd have been the first to jump on the fact the resources =/= reserves. Resources are what we think of how the earths crust is made up. Reserves are what we have actually found or, sometimes, what we gave found that is classed as economically viable to extract. Keep seeing the author use resources when he meant reserves grated a bit :-)

    2. Nifty

      Re: Where's Worstall?

      "raising the price artificially merely serves to make previously uneconomic deposits, economic"

      Assuming this Lithium find is viably real, then we'll see China first wait for competitor plants to come onstream, then dump cheap lithium onto the world markets. That's the trouble with having a single source of manipulation.

    3. bonkers

      Re: Where's Worstall?

      If you're interested in this sort of thing and haven't read Tim Worstall, do go into the Reg archive and have a browse.

      He made the point clearly, that rising prices turn dirt into ore - like a receding sea level exposes more land.

      Because of this, attempts to corner the market (looking at you China), usually fail.

      However, this is better still - a newly discovered find, not one that has been promoted into viability. It's added maybe 50% to known reserves, in a concentrated form - and suggests there may be similar instances elsewhere on the planet.

      The Lithium problem seems like it might now have gone away, with this and "Direct Lithium Extraction" - which looks like it will dramatically accelerate the process, with reduced energy costs, environmental impact etc.

      see here, for instance...

  4. paullaz

    How convenient there is a Gigafactory down the highway.

  5. DS999 Silver badge

    Everyone knew

    That as lithium demand increased it would be worth looking for more, and more would be found. This isn't like gold where people have been looking for thousands of years and finding new deposits is really difficult.

    The ironic thing is that by the time this could actually be producing commercial quantities of lithium we may have moved on and no longer need it. I don't think I'd want to buy stock in whatever company tries to exploit this, given the level of investment in developing alternate battery chemistries that don't require lithium - in most cases not because of worries that lithium will "run out" but because they have better performance metrics than lithium. Lithium dominates now because we figured out how to make it work, and then it got refined over years of investment as it became more important/dominant. But it is far from the ideal or best possible option, it is just the best option today.

    1. YetAnotherXyzzy

      Re: Everyone knew

      "I don't think I'd want to buy stock in whatever company tries to exploit this"

      Agreed. Not only for the good reason you give, but also for a political one: some of the same people who demand that we replace ICEs with EVs also shout "oh no you don't!" every time someone tries to mine or refine or process anything needed for the EV revolution. Readers of El Reg largely understand that technology, and life in general, involves tradeoffs, and that the perfect is often the enemy of the good, but I wish that awareness were more common among the more shouty bits of the general public.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Everyone knew

        The area described has very few people living in it, because it is too arid for farming (and no Colorado River to irrigate it) or probably even for ranching. So there will be no NIMBYs to complain.

        1. YetAnotherXyzzy

          Re: Everyone knew

          I raise my glass in salute to your optimism. May it prove to be well founded.

        2. edjimf

          Re: Everyone knew


          "Indigenous American groups including the People of Red Mountain oppose lithium exploration in the Mcdermitt Caldera, and have filed several requests for injunctions with the Bureau of Land Management."

          Sounds quite NIMBY to me.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Everyone knew

            Or a negotiation tactic to make sure they get their share of the profits.

  6. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Will never happen...

    Oregon's political climate will block this for environmental reasons. The Portland politicians who run the state want everything 'green', they just don't want the environmental impact in their neighborhood. Mining is a 'bad thing'. It won't be outright blocked, just 'studied', regulated, & taxed in to oblivion.

    1. TangoDelta72

      Don't be too sure

      Given the location within Oregon, don't be too sure about the historically liberal leanings of the state:

  7. Tom 7


    Seems this has been knows since 2017

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