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Clean Mining Yields Metals Bonanza
CNBC.com | March 01, 2012 | 12:43 PM EST

A California firm’s new technique of cleaner “mining” could provide the electric-vehicle battery industry with all the lithium it needs, in a greener and cleaner way.

Pleasanton-based Simbol Materials' technology canpull lithium, and other critical metals, out of the effluent water of some geothermal power plants, eliminating the drill-and-blast approach of traditional mining.

“Geothermal power plants provide a quality source of brine,” says Simbol CEO Luka Erceg. “It’s replete and rich with lithium and other metals” like zinc and manganese, he adds.

That's because geothermal power plants extract hot brine or steam from underground to turn turbines and generate power.

Simbol’s focus will be on the geothermal power plants around the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley.

The economics are compelling, says Erceg, noting that the Salton Sea is capable of supporting 500-600MW of geothermal power generation.

Just one “typical” 50MW plant, he says, creates enough brine to produce 16,000 tons of lithium carbonate — a key form of the element — as well as significant amounts of zinc and manganese.

Market rates for lithium carbonate are currently around $5,500/ton.

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