U.S. DOE Awards Up to $4 Million for Projects to Recover Critical Materials from Geothermal Fluids

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Extracting and purifying critical materials from geothermal fluids can potentially improve the economic and production benefits of geothermal energy projects. Photo courtesy of Geothermal Technologies Office, U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Energy Department  announced four research and development (R&D) projects in California, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming that will receive up to $4 million in total funding to assess the occurrence of rare-earth minerals and other critical materials that may be dissolved in higher-temperature fluids associated with energy extraction. 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-efficient lighting. More of these materials—which are of high value or critical to U.S. businesses and other national interests—may become available and economically recoverable through this research.

By validating methods for recovering and purifying critical materials, the economic and production benefits of geothermal energy projects can be improved, making them more cost-competitive at a wider range of locations. These valuable minerals could also be found in elevated temperature fluids produced by oil, gas, or mining operations. The selected projects will research breakthrough approaches for extracting these materials and quantifying this resource potential, which represents an opportunity to help meet America’s need for domestic critical materials while strengthening the economic viability of geothermal energy operations.

Examining how to economically recover these dissolved materials represents one of a range of R&D efforts the Department is pursuing to secure and diversify the supply of critical materials, identify substitute materials, and develop better ways to recycle these materials. Results from this work will enhance current applications of geothermal energy, support planned development, and potentially open additional U.S. regions for future projects.

The selected R&D projects are:

  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Livermore, California—LLNL will use bioengineered microbes in the design and operation of a rare-earth enrichment and separation process to efficiently deliver high-purity products from geothermal fluids.
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, Washington—PNNL will demonstrate a magnetic nanofluid approach to recover rare-earth minerals and other high-value materials from geothermal fluids.
  • University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah—University of Utah will perform a resource assessment of the western United States to identify high-value materials in geothermal fluids and other fluids produced from energy projects.
  • University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming—University of Wyoming will assess rare-earth element concentrations in waters produced by geothermal and oil and gas projects.

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