First U.S. plant to extract high-purity lithium opens in Brawley
Brawley Mayor Don Campbell (left) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) attended Wednesday¿s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first U.S.-based plant to extract high-purity lithium in Brawley. (Silvio J. Panta)
Numerous civic luminaries including U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, attended the event where representatives of the Pleasanton-based Simbol Materials heralded the start of operations to extract high-purity lithium carbonate, which is used in the production of batteries for electrical vehicles.
Two other company plants are located in China and Japan.
The Brawley facility where the mineral will be refined is expected to usher in as many as 100 skilled-labor jobs, according to Simbol Materials chief executive officer and founder Luka Erceg. It is located near Jones Street and Eastern Avenue.
Simbol Materials will hire locally and use local contractors and service professionals but would only relocate people for highly specialized positions, Erceg said.
“This plant is a first of its kind in the U.S., and while many companies invest abroad, Simbol Materials has brought investment to this community, the hardest hit in the U.S. during this recession,” Erceg said in a prepared statement.
Five hundred metric tons, or 2,200 pounds, of lithium a year would be extracted, along with manganese and zinc, from brines at geothermal plants near the Salton Sea.
Lithium is an element used for batteries that power electric cars while manganese and zinc would also be captured by the Simbol-owned geothermal energy plant, officials said.
Simbol officials hope that the technology will make the U.S. a major exporter of lithium.
Filner said $3 million in stimulus money was used to “leverage” the capital needed for the plant. The location of the lithium plant helps put Brawley on the map, Filner said.
“They’ll say one’s in the United States,” Filner said. “But it’ll be here!”
Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at email@example.com