In a monumental find that could redefine global lithium markets, researchers have estimated that the McDermitt Caldera—a volcanic formation straddling the Nevada-Oregon border—houses between 20 and 40 million metric tons of this pivotal metal. This discovery comes as lithium becomes increasingly indispensable for battery technology in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage.
A New Source of Rich Lithium Deposits
Unlike many of the world's leading lithium reserves found in brine, the McDermitt Caldera's lithium is primarily contained within clay deposits, particularly in its southern area known as Thacker Pass. These clay deposits, scientifically classified as illite, are the result of multiple geological events dating back over 16 million years
According to the study published in Science Advances, the discovery at McDermitt Caldera potentially eclipses even Bolivia's famed salt flats, which hold around 23 million tons of lithium. The find, experts believe, could significantly impact lithium prices and reshape geopolitical supply chains.
Environmental and Social Hurdles Lie Ahead
Although the unique geological makeup of this site makes lithium extraction seemingly less labor-intensive, the environmental impact of such an operation cannot be ignored. Lithium mining has often been associated with carbon emissions, groundwater contamination, and excessive energy use. As a result, the project faces opposition from environmentalists and Native American groups who consider Thacker Pass a sacred location. However, a federal court recently cleared the way for the project to proceed, and mining operations have commenced this week.
In summary, the McDermitt Caldera discovery could offer the U.S. a strategic edge in the evolving global lithium market. But as the world races to secure lithium for a greener future, it remains to be seen how this windfall balances with environmental and cultural considerations.