Mineral Recovery Creates Revenue Stream for Geothermal Energy Development

January 21, 2014

Photo of a geothermal power plant at nightThe Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has announced a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) entitled "Low-Temperature Mineral Recovery Program" on behalf of the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO). A targeted GTO initiative focuses on strategic mineral extraction as a path to optimize the value stream of low-to-moderate-temperature geothermal resources.

Rare earths and strategic minerals are essential for modern industry, especially clean-energy technologies but are subject to supply risk in the face of ever-increasing demand. In fact, consumer uses of lithium batteries have soared over the last decade, powering everything from electric cars to tablets to cell phones. While minerals like lithium, manganese, and zinc supply the raw materials for cathodes, glass, ceramics, and lubricants, many minerals also have critical value for advanced manufacturing technologies. As demand grows in this burgeoning market, domestic supply is a growing concern. Global demand for lithium carbonate is expected to exceed 250,000 tons by 2017—a 60% increase over current usage. This FOA aims to help alleviate that supply bottleneck.

By collaborating with geothermal and mineral industry stakeholders, the GTO will promote the development of energy production from low-temp"erature fluids in parallel with the extraction of valuable mineral commodities. In a prior funding opportunity, GTO partnered with an awardee to develop technologies that extract strategic materials from geothermal brines at a mining operation–a first-of-its-kind achievement. GTO support enabled the company to build the first demonstration facility there and successfully mine lithium, manganese, and zinc. This will be a potential model for mineral extraction at other sites going forward.

It is EERE's intent that this opportunity will lead to commercialized technologies, effectively lowering the cost to produce geothermal energy while at the same time diversifying and stabilizing the supply of critical materials for domestic industries.

See the full notice on EERE Exchange.