Mineral Recovery Creates Revenue Stream for Geothermal Energy Development

December 1, 2015

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Critical materials like rare-earth elements and lithium play a vital role in many clean-energy technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and energy-saving lighting. The Energy Department is pursuing a range of research and development efforts to secure and diversify the supply of critical materials, identify substitute materials, and develop better ways to recycle these materials.  One exciting area of this research is examining how to recover critical materials from fluids or “brine” produced from the Earth’s subsurface by geothermal and other energy or mining projects.

The United States imports many critical materials we need to expand our clean energy economy. Some of them may be found in the fluids produced by geothermal power operations or prospective geothermal projects. To explore this potential, today our Geothermal Technologies Office released a funding opportunity announcement titled “Mineral Recovery Phase II: Geothermal Concepts and Approaches to Validate Extraction Technologies.” The Department will provide up to $4 million for approximately three research projects to assess the occurrence of rare earths and other valuable materials dissolved in geothermal or other high-temperature fluids and validate methods for extracting them.

By extracting and purifying these critical materials, we can potentially improve the economic and production benefits of geothermal energy projects, making them more cost-effective at a wider range of locations. It’s also possible that these minerals could be found in fluids produced by oil, gas or mining operations.

This work aims to find breakthrough approaches for identifying the resource potential and validating methods to recover dissolved materials contained in geothermal fluids. Furthermore, this research funding represents an opportunity to help meet America’s needs for domestic critical materials, while strengthening the economic viability of geothermal energy operations and making them more attractive to potential investors.

The Department also seeks to expand the nation’s library of information about the occurrence of these materials in geothermal and elevated temperature fluids, which may encourage further development of America’s geothermal resources.

This work is being conducted in coordination with the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability and its Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Mineral Supply Chains.

For more information, view the full funding opportunity announcement here.