Could Yellowstone’s supervolcano help power America’s future?

A new source of lithium lies in America’s supervolcanoes.

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Technology of the future could potentially be powered by the unexpected. Recently, scientists discovered that the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park contains huge reservoirs of lithium – the very same element used to make lithium batteries.

Lithium, which is used in batteries that power things like the rechargeable batteries for smart cars and smartphones, was first discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfwedson. Since then, the supply of lithium has dwindled with it’s increased usage.

But now, in a new study published by Nature Communications, researchers from Stanford University and the U.S. Geological Survey claim that a new source of lithium lies in America’s supervolcanoes, which lie in Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Long Valley and Valles Caldera.

Supervolcanoes usually produce eruptions 1,000 bigger than average volcanoes, then collapse into basin-like formations known as calderas. They are then usually filled with water and become lakes.

Scientists that were part of the study looked at samples from the High Rock caldera in Nevada, Sierra la Primavera, Mexico, Pantelleria in the Strait of Sicily, Yellowstone, and Hideaway Park in Colorado and found that they had the capacity to host huge amounts of lithium-rich clay deposits.

Good news right? Well, not so fast.

These supervolcanoes, for the most part, lie on protected land, so removing resources from them could cause serious strain on nearby ecosystems. However, having a supply of lithium could help us reduce our carbon footprint by producing more electric vehicles and large storage batteries. And as study co-author Gail Mahood states, “It’s important to identify lithium resources in the U.S. so that our supply does not rely on single companies or countries in a way that makes us subject to economic or political manipulation.”

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