Thacker Pass

Construction has started on a new lithium mine in the United States. Lithium Americas says its property contains the largest lithium deposit in the country. Here’s the setting:

The nearest town of any real size is Winnemucca, Nevada, about 50 miles from the mine site. Otherwise Thacker Pass fits the description “the middle of nowhere.”

Here’s what it looks like:

Mines are big, messy things. This one will be an open pit a mile or two across and 400 feet deep. The lithium will be extracted from the ore by a process involving sulfuric acid. Tons of sulfur will be continuously trucked to the site to be burned and the waste gas used to make the acid. The reaction will also generate enough heat to power steam turbines that will supply electricity for the plant. The lithium compounds emerging from the facility will go mostly to battery makers. Electric vehicles need lots of batteries!

The “greening” of the economy is not a simple process. Demand for materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and especially copper is expected to surge. Things like wind turbines use a lot of steel and concrete, too. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will require not only massive capital outlays but enormous consumption of primary energy sources—which at this point are mostly fossil fuels!

There’s still a lot of opposition to the development at Thacker Pass. And there’s no doubt the mine will make a huge environmental impact. Here’s what interests me: it’s close by. I can keep an eye on it!

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