$540 Billion of ‘White Gold’ Discovered at Bottom of California Lake

By: David Donovan | Last updated: Jul 09, 2024

Researchers have found $540 billion of “white gold” at the bottom of a massive lake in Southern California. 

The Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake, was the location of a research project that the Department of Energy supported. 

Project Goal

The goal of the project was to ascertain how much lithium lay beneath the water.

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Pieces of Lithium metal from the Dennis s.k collection

Wikimedia Commons user Dnn87

Due to the value of lithium and its white, sand-like appearance, the chemical element is often referred to as “white gold.”

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Previous Estimation

Prior to the latest drilling operation, it was established that four million tons of lithium were already present in the lake.

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Gavin Newsom shaking hands with an older person while his wife stands nearby in a hall.

X user GavinNewsom

California governor Gavin Newsom once labeled the Salton Sea the “Saudi Arabia of lithium mining.”

‘Lithium Valley’

Additionally, the lake’s location in Imperial County earned it the moniker “Lithium Valley.” 

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Photo of Salton Sea, in southern California

Wikimedia Commons user Rman348

It is now more apparent than ever before why following the most recent research initiative.

Massive Potential

The scientists discovered last year that the lake’s bottom contained 18 million tons of lithium.

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Large amounts of salt deposits along the eastern shore of the Salton Sea

Wikimedia Commons user Bamsb900

This enormous quantity would be sufficient to power the batteries of over 382 million electric vehicles or more cars than are currently on the road in the United States.

Leading Nation

China would be knocked off the top spot, making the United States the leading nation in lithium.

Great Wall of China at Badaling

Wikimedia Commons user Cccefalon

“This is one of the largest lithium brine deposits in the world. This could make the United States completely self-sufficient in lithium and stop importing it through China,” said Michael McKibben, a co-author of the study and a geochemistry professor at the University of California, Riverside.

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High Value

The figures from last year indicated that one metric ton of lithium was worth approximately $29,000. 

Toxic salt ponds along the Western shoreline

Wikimedia Commons user EmpireFootage

Thus, in light of this figure, it can be estimated that the Salton Sea contains $540 billion worth of lithium. 

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Extraction

Presently endeavors are being made to extricate as much lithium as possible from the lakebed.

Aerial view of the Salton Sea from the north-northeast (from over Joshua Tree National Park), looking into the early afternoon sun

Wikimedia Commons user Dicklyon

According to Los Angeles Times climate reporter Sammy Roth, “There have been companies for decades, actually, that have been trying to get lithium out of there, and especially in the last decade as electric vehicles and energy storage on the power grid become such a big need.”

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Challenges

However, removing enormous quantities of lithium from the Salton Sea is not an easy task, and there are also some risks associated with it.

Salton Sea at sunset from the shore

Unsplash user Alyssa Baches

Geothermal production wells, underground pumps, and a lot of water are needed to get to the lithium.

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Local Community

Additionally, approximately 180,000 people live close to the lake. 

Mummified fish along the shore of the Salton Sea in California.

Unsplash user Michael Herren

The extraction work could impact them, and their water supply, which comes from the Colorado River, may be impacted too. 

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Benefits

However, there is a possibility that the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks.

Silhouette of a man at sunset in Salton Sea

Unsplash user Sherman Yang

In March, Imperial County issued a press release announcing the taxation of lithium extraction. 

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New Revenue Streams

The mining operation would result in the creation of new revenue streams which could be beneficial for the community.

Boat on the coast of the Salton Sea

Unsplash user Greg Bulla

Previously the lake was a source of water for local farmers but it gradually began to shrink.

Once the lake bed was exposed winds created clouds of toxic dust which spread into local communities.

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