There is a fantastic amount of lithium north of Rock Springs.

Good economic news for Wyoming will follow if even part of its potential can be tapped.

Lithium is a key component of batteries and electronic devices. It also plays a key role in lithium-ion batteries that store excess energy for later use in wind, solar and smart-grid technologies. In short, as the push to go green intensifies, so will the demand for lithium.

The find, projected by the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute to be upwards of 228,000 tons, is significant for energy development in the southwest corner.

In effect, this industry could aid the development of another and boost yet another.

n The state’s carbon sequestration efforts are focused in the same area, which could serve as a future storage site for carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels — primarily coal — at power plants.

n To store the carbon dioxide, the briny water in the Rock Springs Uplift would have to be removed from below the surface. The water in this uplift contains the lithium.

n A significant cost in desalinating the briny water is pressurizing it. The lithium-laced water near Rock Springs is so deep underground, officials expect its treatment costs to be less.

n Even so, extracting lithium from brines requires soda ash — long an abundant mineral in Sweetwater County.

The meeting of the minerals appears too good to be true, but could be a boon for Wyoming.

This interesting find would also help Wyoming diversify its energy and natural resources portfolio. As we’ve said before, in order for Wyoming’s economy to survive the natural boom-and-bust cycles of energy sectors, we must diversify. This appears to be an opportunity to do so.

Said Ron Surdam, director of the UW Carbon Management Institute: “It’s interesting how all the resources you need converge on the Rock Springs Uplift.”

As expected, the value of the find is being debated. Researchers peg it as high as $500 billion, based on current lithium values; the lone company to apply for leases thus far calls it “a shot in the dark.”

David Miller, a geologist and state representative, filed the leasing paperwork first and will likely get one of the first shots at developing the site. He’s opportunistically skeptical.

“The key is to let people explore,” he said.

We believe he has to be correct: We won’t know exactly how valuable and how realistic Wyoming’s store of lithium is until some groups start exploration.

Given the estimate range, anticipated increase in demand for lithium, and the impact on Wyoming, state officials are correctly taking a measured pace in processing applications.

“At this point,” Ryan Lance, director of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, said, “we just don’t know. Because we don’t know, we need to be very cautious.”

Wyoming has the potential to benefit from the find for decades to come, so it’s the right approach given so many moving parts.

But my, doesn’t it feel good to consider the potential?

Contact Assistant Managing Editor David Mayberry at 307-266-0633 or david.mayberry@trib.com. Read his blog at www.trib.com/alphabetsoup. Follow him on Twitter@David_Mayberry.

(1) comment

Salty Dawg
Salty Dawg

Economic opportunity? Sort of like the Budweiser plant fiasco?

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