Lithium startup backed by Bill Gates seeks a breakthrough at the Salton Sea – by Sammy Roth (Los Angeles Times – March 16, 2020)

David Snydacker knew going in that California’s Imperial Valley was a “graveyard for lithium-extraction technologies.”

For years, companies had tried and failed to find a cost-effective way to pull the valuable mineral — a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric cars — from the naturally heated fluid deep beneath the Salton Sea. One of the most recent busts was Simbol Materials, a much-hyped startup that collapsed in 2015 shortly after Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. offered to buy the firm for $325 million.

But several deep-pocketed investors think Snydacker’s technology may finally launch a new domestic clean-energy industry. His Oakland startup, Lilac Solutions, recently announced a $20-million funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which funds startups working to reduce planet-warming emissions.

Breakthrough’s investors include three of the world’s 10 richest people: Microsoft Corp. co-founder Gates, Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

On Monday, Lilac and the Australian company Controlled Thermal Resources announced they’re partnering to develop a lithium-extraction facility at the Salton Sea. The Australian firm is trying to build the area’s first new geothermal power plant in a decade, a project that would be far more lucrative if the super-heated underground fluid could produce lithium in addition to electricity.

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