Elixir for Greater Battery Efficiency from the Earth


The San Andreas Fault is said to be one of the most active fault lines in the world and much of the Western United States is awaiting its next big movement. Despite the doomsayers, there is gold in there hills, but this time it’s for battery technology.

The fault line is an area that is a great source of geothermal energy and one of its byproducts is hot brine, now used to drive turbines to generate electricity. This brine also has the ability to collect minerals, one of which is lithium. Lithium is one of the key components in the creation of modern electric car batteries and other electrical devices.

One company, Simbol Materials, extracts lithium from the brine and has access to large reserves to this very important metal. This avoids the need to dig large mines to extract the ore for material use. The extracted lithium is used by start up company Envia Systems and is now being used to create a battery of higher density and at lower cost than what had been done before. When this occurs, the cost of batteries would be reduced affecting the cost of electric cars.

While many areas of the San Andreas fault may seem to be uninviting areas to propagate a revolution, its ability to provide sources of energy and minerals may prove to be the true value of this area to the world.

Another avenue how minerals that can help improve the technology of battery devices would be the use of sulfur enriched nanoparticles in new battery arrays. As the demand for batteries continues to increase exponentially, the need for more efficient in terms of energy delivery as well as size and weight becomes more pronounced. This is where lithium sulfur batteries leave lithium ion batteries in their wake.

In this new battery design, lithium, ions are exchanged between lithium and sulfur carbon electrodes, where the sulfur is able to absorb two lithium ions per sulfur atom. This makes the system a more efficient energy storage system with its power to weight ratio. At the same time, sulfur is a poor conductor of electricity and thus electrons can only be transported with great difficulty during charging and discharging. This is augmented with a larger interface area for electron transfer through coupling of the system with nanostructured conductive material.

According to Thomas Bein of the Nanosystems Initiative Munich, “The sulfur is very accessible electrically in these novel and highly porous carbon nanoparticles and is stabilized so that we can achieve a high initial capacity of 1200 mAh/g and good cycle stability. Our results underscore the significance of nano-morphology for the performance of new energy storage concepts.”

Soon enough, this system would become standard issue when it comes to the future of batteries for electric cars.

Company To Change Lithium Market

New Electric Car
New Electric Car

A company out of California last Wednesday announced that it would undertake commercial operations to capture lithium from geothermal energy plants. This, according to them, would most likely make the United States the top exporter of lithium in the world.

The company is Simbol Materials and would locate their lithium extraction facility near the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley of California. Aside from lithium, the facility also would extract manganese and zinc. None of the planned extracted material would include rare earth elements, which have only be found in large quantities in China. Despite such limitations, lithium ranks as one of the energy critical elements that are deemed crucial for the energy needs of the future.

Lithium is an important element in the creation of electric car batteries. Manganese is also used as battery material as well as important in steel and metal production. Currently, the United States imports most of its lithium needs and all of its manganese requirements.

The company’s design for the process is through attachment with an existing geothermal plant. When the plant generates electricity through steam generated from pumped hot water from drilled holes in the ground. The steam drives turbines and the hot water is pumped back into the ground hole. This underground water is essentially a strong composite of brine with around thirty percent are dissolved salts.

These dissolved salts, according to Luka Erceg, Simbol’s Chief Executive Officer, are rich in these energy critical elements. He said, ““When we looked into the brine resource, what we found was not only lithium, but manganese, zinc and about half the periodic table of the elements.” At this point though, the economically viable elements are lithium, manganese and zinc.

The Simbol plant would process 5,000 to 6,000 gallons of water per minute, and through a filtration process, would be able to extract about 10 to 20 gallons of salt. These salts would then be refined through an extraction process that is 93 percent efficient. This cost effective way can produce much of the lithium requirements of the United States and even allow for production to export to other countries.

Currently, Chile, Australia, China and Argentina are the major producers of lithium. This element is used in metallurgy, pharmaceuticals and now with the increased focus on electric vehicle production, in lithium ion batteries. Be it for cellular phones or the latest electric vehicle model, the lithium contained in their batteries may soon come from the Salton Sea Brine through the efforts of Simbol Materials, Inc.