Among the sagebrush and sand within the Nevadan deserts, specifically that of Humboldt County, are rare and lucrative pockets of lithium waiting to be mined, refined, and turned into battery-quality lithium carbonate, which powers countless everyday items.
Lithium Americas held the grand opening of its 30,000-square-foot Technical Center in Reno on July 20, which will accommodate research and development projects necessary to keep the evolution of the most advanced lithium mining project in the United States — located in McDermitt — striving for bigger, better, and greener goals.
The Thacker Pass site, which is approximately 60 miles from Winnemucca, has received approval from the Bureau of Land Management that permits the beginning of construction, according to Lithium Americas.
President and CEO of Lithium Americas Jonathan Evans, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval were all present to cut the ribbon at the grand opening, along with members of the Ft. McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe.
“While we hope to play a meaningful role in developing a secure domestic supply of lithium to meet our country’s electrification needs, we are committed to doing this in a manner that benefits the people of Nevada, its tribal nations and the broader industry that has flourished in this state,” Evans said.
The event showcased a tour of the pristine machines used to remove impurities and foster clean waste products that can be reintroduced to the environment. A majority of the process, according to President of North American Operations for Lithium Americas Alexi Zawadzki, is to remove impurities, like magnesium, that can cause lithium batteries to catch on fire, and to ensure that waste products created by the mining process are environmentally responsible.
The waste produced from the mining process — like Epsom salt, from magnesium, and neutral clay — can be touched with bare hands, and were by many of the guests at the opening. Even while machines were operating with materials inside of them, technicians and patrons need only wear plastic safety glasses. The non-lithium bearing clay, made of a sandy-silt material, is packed tightly into flat, square bricks, removing much of the water that is initially used to scrub unsought minerals from the lithium-bearing materials by the end of the process. The bricks are easily stored and then can be settled into mounds and used for back-fill upon reclamation. Lithium Americas is still exploring how to recycle the Epsom salt, according to officials.
The Thacker Pass site also will house its own sulfuric acid plant, according to Zawadzki, for leaching and neutralizing, an important step in making sure the lithium that is yielded is pure. The plant will convert sulfur, which is much safer to haul and store than sulfuric acid, into sulfuric acid on site, removing risks during transportation and handling.
“Building a sulfuric acid plant on site reduces the number of trucks on the road as each ton of sulfur can create three tons of sulfuric acid, and sulfur is much safer to transport. The production of sulfuric acid also produces steam which we will use to generate carbon-free power for the processing plant,” according to Lithium Americas.
“The determination that Lithium Americas has shown to not only build a strong U.S. battery industry but train the next pioneers in this space will pay dividends to Nevada, ensuring that we can continue to set and achieve ambitious goals,” Sandoval said.