‘White Gold’ Mining Could Revolutionize the Imperial Valley Economy


Raul Flores holds up a piece of lithium at Imperial Valley Community College while explaining to his classmates how it is extracted and refined. (Philip Salata/inewsource)

Before Raul Flores held “white gold” in his fingertips, he’d tried his hand at other Imperial Valley jobs. He worked as a correction officer in the state prison, he grew medjool dates on ten acres of land and he eventually landed a job at the geothermal plants around the Salton Sea.

Then he got wind that under his feet lay enough lithium to supply roughly a third of the world’s demand, and he knew that was a game changer.

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“Lithium equals future,” said Flores, holding a gleaming chunk of lithium chloride between his fingertips so his classmates could get a better look. 

The crystal in his hands made concrete something that has eluded him and the other students, all part of Imperial Valley College‘s inaugural class of aspiring lithium industry workers: 

The promise of a better future.

The 49ers football jersey Flores wore harkened back to another era when people pinned their hopes and dreams on minerals in the earth. 

Could this be the next gold rush?

A key metal in batteries that power electric cars and computers, lithium has spiked in value over the last decade as global demand for the “white gold” has skyrocketed. 

The massive, untapped repository in Imperial Valley – worth $500 billion by some estimates – could help make the United States a new — and key — player in the industry worldwide. That’s because almost all of the world’s supply is mined and refined abroad. 

Chile sits on the majority of the world’s untapped reserves, mines in Australia provide more than half of the world’s supply, and China produces over half of the world’s batteries. The U.S. is barely on the chart.

In the Imperial Valley, companies running geothermal power plants on the Salton Sea have known for years that the brine they’ve been pumping from reservoirs deep in the ground contains lithium, but the technology to extract it and the demand haven’t existed until recently. Today, both exist. Almost.

Read the full article on inewsource.org.

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