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From Science Advances (In depth Article):McDermitt Caldera (Nevada/Oregon Border) was formed after a massive magma eruption approximately 16.4 million years ago, dredging up untold scores of lithium and other metals. A lake eventually inhabited the caldera, which deposited a layer of sediment spliced with the lithium that today is over 600 feet deep. The result: a clay called smectite.
But that was just the first lithium injection. Eventually, as volcanic activity heated up again, hot brine containing additional lithium was driven up into the existing smectite, infusing it with even more of it. Now, the clay was no longer just smectite, but a uniquely lithium-rich illite.
"They seem to have hit the sweet spot where the clays are preserved close to the surface, so they won't have to extract as much rock, yet it hasn't been weathered away yet," Borst told Chemistry World.
This is good news for miners. Not only is this particular illite more rich in the metal, it's supposedly easier to separate. Plus, the deposits are mostly concentrated in one spot at the southern tip of the pass, limiting the area impacted by mining.
At least in theory. The extraction of lithium can, depending on the methods used, emit vast amounts of CO2, contaminate groundwater with dangerous heavy metals, and guzzle tons of fossil fuels. Its environmental toll shouldn't be overlooked in the rush to green transportation infrastructure.
This back-of-the-envelope estimation is calculated using caldera-wide extrapolation of publicly available drill hole data from Lithium Americas Corp. and Jindalee Resources Ltd. and is not a reporting code-compliant mineral resource estimate that considers economic viability. Even if this estimation is high due to variations in sediment thickness and/or Li grade, the Li inventory contained in McDermitt caldera sediments would still be on par with, if not considerably larger than, the 10.2 MT of Li inventory estimated to be contained in brines beneath the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (12), previously considered the largest Li deposit on Earth.