Will lithium sucked out of the middle of Nevada be a breakthrough source for batteries?
About half way between Reno and Las Vegas, in a barren, sun-scorched valley, sits a region that’s straddling the past and the future of humanity’s centuries-old hunt for valuable metals.
It’s a quest that recently caught the attention of a handful of high flying speculators, mining entrepreneurs, risk-embracing investors—and electric car maker Tesla Motors.
These upstarts are drawn to this desolate landscape called Clayton Valley looking for a new American source of lithium, a white metal that’s a key ingredient in batteries that power cell phones, laptops, and increasingly cars. The demand for lithium is increasing dramatically worldwide, as are lithium prices, and much of the global lithium supply comes from huge conglomerates in Chile, Argentina, and Australia.
But this bleak corner of the world in Nevada is home to the only operating lithium mine in the U.S. By some estimates, it also holds the promise of even greater untapped riches of the valuable metal buried beyond the mine.
That’s what has attracted a slew of lithium entrepreneurs hoping that they’ve bought the winning claims that will strike it rich in “white gold” that’s floating in salty water beneath the surface.
To Tesla, this valley that time forgot is only a three and a half hour drive from its massive battery factory, under construction outside of Reno, Nev. Tesla wants a supply of lithium to fill enough batteries to power 500,000 cars per year by 2020. The locale could also be an opportunity for Tesla to buy the resource from an alternative startup outside of the lithium oligopoly.
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