Researchers at the University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute (CMI) discovered a vast new lithium resource near Rock Springs during a geological carbon dioxide storage site characterization project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Lithium, a key component of batteries and electronic devices, has become highly sought after as nations -- including the U.S. -- transition to greener technologies. Wind, solar and smart grid technologies all employ lithium-ion batteries to store excess energy for later use.

Presently, the U.S. imports more than 80 percent of the lithium used domestically. In addition to making CO2 storage cheaper, the potential new lithium resource discovered by CMI could have a major impact on the global market, transforming the U.S. from a significant lithium importer to an independent lithium producer.

“We’re excited about this discovery and the prospect of creating a completely new industry in Wyoming,” says Shanna Dahl, CMI deputy director. “More work must be done to fully assess the potential, but our research is very encouraging at this point.”

Preliminary analyses of fluid samples collected from a well drilled on the Rock Springs Uplift -- a geological feature in southwest Wyoming -- suggest that reservoir brines from a 25-square-mile area of the uplift could contain 228,000 tons of lithium: enough to meet annual U.S. demand.

To help put this number in perspective, the lithium reserves at Silver Peak, Nev. -- the largest domestic producer of lithium -- total 118,000 tons in a 20-square-mile area. In a best-case scenario, the 2,000-square-mile Rock Springs Uplift could harbor up to 18 million tons of lithium, equivalent to about 720 years of current global lithium production.