Back in the summer, Elon Musk dished out some advice to entrepreneurs when he said getting into the lithium business is a “license to print money.” With only one commercial mine in operation, the U.S. is woefully behind to meet the surging demand for lithium—a critical mineral to manufacture EV batteries. So, we export tons of the stuff at prices that have shot up 900% in just the last two years.
Reese Energy Consulting today is following the hoofbeats of a nascent American industry to produce the lithium volumes to sustain our domestic needs. It’s not a question of whether we have those mineral resources, but more of economically producing ample supplies with an eye on the environment. Developing new lithium mines can take a decade or longer. Mining is carbon-intensive and requires vast amounts of water and FERC red tape. But the concept of extracting lithium from the brine in oilfield wastewater—a process called Direct Lithium Extraction—holds the potential for E&Ps to harvest the mineral quicker and Earth-friendly, while generating a new revenue stream. Not every formation is a feasible candidate, but researcher Enverus estimates the Permian Delaware could produce some 225,000 tons of lithium carbonate a year and create $19 billion in revenue.