Padilla Highlights Groundbreaking Potential of Salton Sea Lithium Supply for Domestic Electric Vehicle Battery Production

WATCH: Sen. Padilla highlights Salton Sea lithium potential for EV battery production

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned witnesses during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the groundbreaking potential of the Salton Sea’s lithium resources to accelerate domestic production of electric vehicle batteries. This discovery could significantly bolster U.S. domestic lithium supply, opening up new opportunities for investments in California and representing a major step toward reaching the Biden Administration’s goal of ensuring half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2030 are zero-emission vehicles. During the hearing, Padilla questioned Mr. David M. Turk, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), and Mr. Adewale O. Adeyemo, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Treasury.

During his questioning, Padilla highlighted the recently announced comprehensive DOE analysis of the Salton Sea’s lithium production capacity, conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which found that the Salton Sea’s regional total resources could produce more than 3,400 kilotons of lithium, enough to support over 375 million batteries for electric vehicles.

Mr. Turk noted that the Salton Sea lithium supply alone could provide batteries for more electric vehicles than there are total vehicles on U.S. roads today. He thanked Padilla for his partnership and said the DOE is working to lower costs of brining technology and bolster the lithium supply chain to provide crucial economic and decarbonization benefits.

Padilla also asked Mr. Turk about the importance of incentivizing research and development of geothermal energy to generate reliably clean power, lithium, and minerals like zinc. Mr. Turk discussed the potential for geothermal energy, including enhanced geothermal energy, to bolster renewable energy supply and slash carbon emissions.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) recently named the Lithium Valley Recompete Plan in Imperial County as a finalist in the Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program. This makes the Lithium Valley Recompete Plan eligible to apply for $20 to $50 million in funding to transition regional businesses and the workforce into a technology and innovation-based economy centered on the lithium industry. The Lithium Valley Clean Tech Strategy Development Consortium, led by the University of California Riverside, was also recently awarded EDA’s Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grant to build regional capacity and implement direct lithium extraction from regional lithium brine deposits.

Padilla is committed to securing the investments needed to leverage this domestic lithium supply as we work to meet our zero-emission targets.

Key Excerpts:

PADILLA: I have great news for everybody this morning, particularly my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have expressed her concerns regarding our reliance on foreign critical minerals, specifically lithium, not just in today’s hearing but in recent years. Last month, DOE announced the results of the most comprehensive analysis to date, quantifying the domestic lithium resources in California’s Salton Sea region. This analysis, conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that with expected technology advances, the Salton Sea’s regional total resources could produce more than 3,400 kilotons of lithium, enough to support over 375 million batteries for electric vehicles. The analysis confirms what we’ve long known in California: the Salton Sea region has significant potential as a domestic source of the critical minerals needed for these batteries. Question number one, for Mr. Turk: What is DOE doing to support responsible development at the Salton Sea so that we can begin increasing our domestic supply of lithium?

TURK: Well, thank you, Senator, for mentioning this phenomenal asset that we have in our country in California. The Salton Sea, the analysis that you mentioned, is really groundbreaking. Just to put in perspective, the 375 million batteries for electric vehicles, the Salton Sea itself, if we can get the costs to where they need to and make sure that we’re doing this right from an environmental justice perspective, that’s more than the total number of vehicles currently on U.S. roads, just to give you a sense of scale of this one asset, this one resource that we have. So we’re working across the board throughout the Department of Energy, everything from reducing the cost of the technology to get this brined and make sure it’s done in the right way, and to make sure that this is available for our domestic processors, our manufacturers, and the whole supply chain going forward. We’re using a loan program, we’re using all the tools that we’ve got in the tool belt, and really appreciate the partnership with you, Senator, to make sure that we’re connecting all those dots as quickly as we possibly can for economic benefit, but also decarbonization benefit as well.

PADILLA: Let me also ask you, how important is it for this committee to support and incentivize geothermal energy research and development to not only provide a reliable source of power generation, but also to shore up our domestic supply of lithium and other critical minerals like zinc.

TURK: So I think geothermal is one of the most exciting technology and opportunities that we have out there. Most people think of geothermal in the traditional sense of geothermal — if you’ve got a hot spring nearby, you take advantage of that, and you get some benefit from that. What’s particularly exciting is something called “enhanced geothermal,” where you use drilling technology, and we’ve done an awful lot of drilling in our country and perfected a lot of technologies and reduced those costs. If we can train that drilling technology — and there are companies and we’re doing some things from the Department of Energy folks focused exactly on this — you drill deeper, you do it cheaply, and then you have electricity production because it’s higher temperature coming up. So if we can get that technology at a cost level that is 24/7 baseload power in a very environmentally responsible way without the carbon emissions. Incredibly exciting. We’ve got work to do. That’s what we’re doing, including through our FORGE facility that’s testing some of these technologies in the western part of the United States.

PADILLA: Yeah, but if we can pull this off, this would be massive. We already have a significant amount of quality geothermal energy, which we refer to in the renewable energy space as “renewable gold.”

Senator Padilla has consistently fought for emissions reductions in the transportation sector, including through the transition to widely accessible electric vehicles. Last year, Padilla, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Representative Nanette Díaz Barragán (D-Calif.-44) introduced the bicameral EVs for All Act, legislation that would increase access to EVs for residents of public housing across the nation. He and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.-10) previously sent a letter urging the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration to prioritize investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in clean charging and fueling projects to help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in the most impacted communities. Padilla also led a letter with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and 13 other Senators calling on the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service to finalize guidance for and maximize inclusive access to the 30C Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit.

More information about the hearing is available here.

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