For power, plug into your nearest volcano

There are 20 known “supervolcanos” around the world, including the Yellowstone Caldera, a 30 by 45-mile depression in the northwest corner of Wyoming. A supervolcano is one whose volcanic center has erupted at a magnitude of 8 (the highest) on the Volcano Explosivity Index. As a reference, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was a 5. The last supervolcano eruption occurred roughly 74,000 years ago.

Volcanologists and scientists at NASA have come up with an outlandish plan that may prevent such a catastrophic eruption and provide a massive amount of usable energy for the foreseeable future. By pumping water roughly 6 miles into the volcano and circulating it back, a hydrothermal energy cycle could be established that could provide enough energy to power the area for tens of thousands of years as the circulating water would reach a 662 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to melt lead.

This theoretical power plant would cost approximately $3.46 billion or 1/6th of NASA’s current budget and, as such, there are no current plans to implement the strategy. Still, others have looked toward the center of the earth to find domestic sources of energy and, as it turns out, volcanic deposits contain huge reservoirs of lithium. The same element that is powering whichever device on which you are reading this article.

In 2015 The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the world had enough known reserves for about 365 years of the then current global production of 37,000 tons per year. And, as most of the world’s lithium currently comes from Australia and Chile, there is significant interest in locating and sourcing lithium closer to home.

Scientists at Stanford and the USGS recently published an article in Nature Communications detailing how to find lithium in supervolcanic calderas that fill with rainwater and hot springs that leach lithium from volcanic deposits. Over time, the lithium becomes concentrated in a clay and can be harvested. Researchers point out that this source of lithium is extremely important in keeping pace with the development of lithium-ion batteries as well as diversifying “the global lithium supply chain.”


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