BLM issues Record of Decision for Thacker Pass Mine in Nevada
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a Record of Decision approving Lithium Nevada’s proposed Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Nevada.
The Record of Decision was revised in December of 2020 to make corrections requested by the BLM and Nevada Department of Environmental Protection. According the BLM, those revisions did not substantially change the plan as proposed.
The project is home to the largest known lithium resource in the United States. Tim Crowley, vice president of government and community relations for Lithium Nevada said the mine will be able to meet all U.S. lithium demand and enable the U.S. to become a net exporter of the mineral largely used in rechargeable batteries.
“We have a very special deposit. It’s one of the biggest on the planet,” Cowley told lawmakers during the online meeting. “The mine life is long. We can say with certainty it’s at least 40 years long and we can say with some high probability that it will go far beyond that.”
The project is designed in two phases to be an openpit mine with production capacity that could reach 60 kt of battery-grade lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) per year over a 46 year-mine life.
The Silver Peak lithium mine in Nevada is currently the nation’s only active lithium mine. This operation has been producing lithium from Clayton Valley water, 20 miles southwest of Tonapah, since the mid-1960s. The Albemarle Corporation based in Charlotte, North Carolina now operates the mine.
Like lithium mines in Argentina and Chile, the Silver Peak mine extracts lithium from salt flat brine. The Thacker Pass project is different in that the lithium is entrained in clay-like material associated with an ancient super-volcano. An open pit is proposed with the remediation objective of back filling the hole.
In the ROD, the BLM concluded the mine will pose no significant impact.
“Alternative A is not anticipated to affect any threatened or endangered species or significant scientific, cultural or historical resources, as these resources are either not present or the effects will be mitigated.”
Lithium Nevada has spent the last couple years refining a processing method in its Reno laboratory that will separate the lithium from the clay using sulfuric acid.
The Thacker Pass Project is unlike most mining projects in that it is proposed to be a carbon-neutral mine operation. In order to fulfill the objectives of processing ore using sulfuric acid and generating electric power, a sulfuric acid plant will be built on-site so that lithium can be leached, or dissolved, from the extracted ore during mining operations and the heat generated through the creation of sulfuric acid will be used to generate electricity.
“The Thacker Pass Mine will be the first processing facility that uses sulfuric acid to extract lithium from sedimentary clay; however, sulfuric acid has been used to extract lithium from hard rock deposits for decades,” Alexi Zawadzki, CEO of Lithium Nevada wrote in email correspondence with Sierra Nevada Ally. “Once the lithium is dissolved, it can be concentrated and purified to produce high-quality lithium compounds for batteries. Any excess acidity is neutralized to produce calcium sulfate (gypsum, also known as the main material in wall-board) and magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt).”