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GMEG - Geology, Minerals, Energy, & Geophysics Science Center

Lithium-bearing clays: genesis and resource investigations

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Issue: For many years pegmatites were the source of Li for global commodity markets. However in1960’s Chemetall Foote began producing Li from brines located in Nevada, and brines quickly surpassed pegmatite-Li as the most economic source of Li in global markets. In the 1990’s large brine operations located in Chile and Argentina began to produce LiCO3, the chemical needed for battery manufacture, and pegmatite operations such as Kings Mountain in North Carolina ceased production because they could not compete with relatively inexpensive brine-Li. In today’s world, brines and pegmatites comprise 59% and 26%, respectively, of global Li resources. Several years ago a new resource – clay minerals – became considered as a 3rd source of Li. Currently, 7% of global resources are sourced in clay minerals.


  • To understand the formation and environment of deposition of Li clays,
  • To understand the source of Li to the clay deposits,
  • To understand the relationship between Li clay deposits and other mineral resource deposits
  • Update and improve the USGS Li clay deposit model
  • To use our new understanding of Li clay mineralogy and geochemistry to calibrate remote sensing techniques for exploration and resource assessment.

Relevance: Lithium (Li) is an Energy Critical Element for our society and economy, due to the increasing use of Li batteries as a portable energy source. An in-depth understanding of the geological occurrence of Li mineral resources is critical to ensuring a continual supply of resources, and for allowing society to weather global price fluctuations, transportation difficulties, and international political disagreements. This research will add necessary detail to a deposit model for Li-bearing clays in order to guide exploration efforts within the U.S.

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