The growing electric vehicles market has sparked a boom for the minerals needed to power the batteries in those vehicles and Lithium Nevada is positioned well to capitalize on the growing demand. The company plans to begin mining lithium from the largest known deposit in the United States by 2022 and could be producing as much as 60 kt/a (66,000 stpy) by 2025.
The deposit is in the McDermitt Caldera in northern Nevada, stretching from Humboldt County into Oregon.
“Chevron started drilling this site out back in the 70s, looking for uranium and they found lithium instead, so it's a known resource,” Alexi Zawadzki, chief executive officer of Lithium Nevada told KTVN news in northern Nevada. “The McDermitt Caldera is one of the most highly mineralized calderas in the world.”
A prehistoric volcano created the caldera, which turned into a lake. The lithium is in the clay that sat at the bottom of the water.
Lithium Nevada plans to start mining at Thacker Pass in 2022, initially producing about 30 kt/a (33,000 stpy) of lithium carbonate. Officials say it will provide 25 percent of the world's lithium and will have a mine life of at least 46 years.
“We found an area that we can mine at a good rate for 46 years,” Tim Crowley, vice president of government affairs and community relations for Lithium Nevada said. “That’s almost unheard of.”
“It's expected that by 2025, the demand for lithium products to support the production of batteries is going to quadruple,” Zawadzki said.
The mine will use sulfuric acid to extract the lithium from the clay. Construction of an on-site sulfuric acid plant and lithium processing plant is expected within the next two years.
About 800 construction jobs are slated for the plants. Once the mine operations begin, more than 290 people will have permanent jobs that could include anything from equipment operators to lab technicians. The average pay is projected to be $86,400 per year.
Lithium Carbonate is exported to Asia where it is processed into cathodes for batteries. Zawadzki says a mine of this scale could allow similar capabilities.
“Having a resource here gives us options to make those cathodes in the United States and maybe right here in Nevada,” Zawadzki said.
Lithium Nevada has done six years of environmental work and the lithium deposit stretches into ecologically sensitive areas that will not be mined. The Thacker Pass Project is in a small area on the south end of the caldera.
"We're going to great lengths to study the impacts that this project will have on water, on wildlife and on the surrounding areas and we're finding that the impacts are quite low," Crowley said.
The mine pit will be about 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long, 0.8 km (0.5 miles) wide, and about 107 m (350 deep). That is not very big compared to many other open pit mines.
The mine will be designed in a way that will allow the mine to expand to the south, where the company is drilling exploration holes.
Nevada's only operational lithium mine is in Silver Peak, in Esmerelda County. It extracts the mineral from groundwater by pumping it into holding ponds on the surface where it will evaporate. Since the Thacker Pass Project's lithium is in the clay, they will use strip mining to gather the ore.
Over the 46-year lifespan, the mine is projected to produce $6.7 billion in state and federal taxes.