Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the Phase 1 semifinalists of the American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize, a $4 million competition designed to advance technologies and techniques to support direct lithium extraction from geothermal brines. Lithium, a critical material used in high-charge-density batteries for electric vehicles and grid-scale electricity storage, is a crucial element in the clean energy supply chain. Nearly all of the U.S lithium stock is imported. As domestic demand increases rapidly, there is an urgent need to develop safe, secure, domestic, and cost-competitive sources of lithium to achieve the Biden-Harris climate goals and create good paying jobs for Americans.

"By partnering technology researchers with industry commercialization professionals, the prize will fast-track efforts to recover lithium from geothermal brines at scale,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “These technological innovations will help develop domestic sources of lithium that will create jobs and boost our clean energy revolution.”

The Phase 1 semifinalists identified an impactful idea or solution to drive down costs of lithium extraction and, ultimately, help develop environmentally friendly, domestic sources of lithium. Each team will receive $40,000 and is eligible to move on to Phase 2.

The Phase 1 semifinalists are: 

  • Boston University – Pober-Strauss
  • George Washington University – Ellexco
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Lithium from Home
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Nanoporous Graphene Membrane
  • Oregon State University – Espiku
  • Rice University – LiSED
  • Texas Tech University – Tech Desal
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign – SelectPureLi
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth – Lirix-nano Sengupta
  • University of Miami – Miami Solution
  • University of Texas at Austin – Freeman Lab
  • University of Utah – University of Utah
  • University of Virginia – Team TELEPORT
  • University of Wyoming – Bruce Parkinson’s Team
  • University of Wyoming – Team Goldilocks

Phase 2 of the Lithium Prize, Design & Invent, kicks off this week. Over the coming months, semifinalist teams will advance their Phase 1 proposals to demonstrate their designs’ abilities. Phase 2 finalists will then fabricate and test their designs for Phase 3.

Geothermal brines, a byproduct of geothermal power plants, are a promising source of domestic lithium. But there are challenges related to scaling up technologies and techniques in a cost-effective way to recover the lithium while ensuring a minimal environmental footprint. The Salton Sea region of California has the potential to supply 600,000 tons of lithium each year, which exceeds the current annual U.S. demand for lithium. Learn more about how geothermal energy can solve the lithium shortfall.

The American-Made Geothermal Prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and funded by the Geothermal Technologies Office.