Geothermal Power: Dual Market for Water Treatment and Lithium Extraction Technology

California’s large geothermal fields host more than 40 geothermal power plants. The Salton Sea region is considered the most abundant geothermal resource in the nation, reportedly containing significant amounts of lithium, manganese and zinc—essential materials for the battery and energy storage markets. In 2016, California and the U.S. Department of the Interior signed an agreement to work together on managing and developing the Salton Sea’s resources.

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Interview with KPBS Radio - The Forgotten Renewable: Geothermal Energy Production Heats Up

Interview with KPBS Radio - Listen Here

Three and a half hours east of Los Angeles lies the Salton Sea, a manmade oasis in the heart of the Mojave Desert. It was created in 1905, when a canal broke and the Colorado River flooded the desert for more than a year. The Sea became a tourist hotspot in the 1950's, perfect for swimming, boating, and kayaking. But now, people are coming here looking for something else.

Jim Turner is the chief operating officer of Controlled Thermal Resources, an energy company from Australia. On a hill overlooking the Salton Sea, he points out a patch of land that will someday house his company's first power plant, named Hell's Kitchen.

"We're standing on top of what is probably the most robust geothermal resource in the United States," he explains.

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Trump raises the thermostat for geothermal energy

The Trump administration is looking to carve out a place for geothermal energy in its energy abundance agenda, starting several initiatives to help the undervalued renewable resource expand beyond the volcanic Pacific region.

Geothermal power plants are one of the few renewable energy resources, outside of hydroelectric dams, that can provide a source of 24-hour-a-day electricity without interruption, known as baseload power. Arguably, geothermal is becoming more reliable than hydropower, given water scarcity issues in the West.

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Trump Holds Geothermal Card Up His Sleeve When Pitching “Energy Dominance”

President Trump’s idea of US energy dominance is exclusive to fossil fuels. Nevertheless, his central premise — “innovation and new technology have opened trillions of dollars of energy for development” — can be equally applied to the vast wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal resources at the country’s disposal.

It looks like the Trump administration is gearing up for a new round of R&D that could propel the US geothermal industry out of the doldrums.

On December 13, the office announced the first steps toward an R&D program seeking ways to lower the cost of drilling.

Drilling accounts for about half the cost of geothermal development, so focusing on that angle should produce high impact results.

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