If you’ve never traveled east of Greater Reno-Sparks, past Fernley and Fallon and the populated parts of Northern Nevada, you might not realize the full scope of hard rock mining in the state.
Mine sites across Elko, Humboldt, Eureka, Lander, Pershing and White Pine counties produce enough gold to make Nevada the fifth-largest producer of gold in the world. The recently formed Nevada Battery Coalition hopes to one day say the same about Nevada’s nascent lithium industry.
Currently, only three countries — Chile, Argentina and Australia — produce lithium on a commercial scale, said Bernard Rowe, managing director of lithium mining company Ioneer, which has spent several years advancing its Rhyolite Ridge project near Tonopah. Ioneer has secured more than $1.2 billion in equity funding and low-cost federal loans for its project, which is expected to deliver 22,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually when production begins in 2026.
Rhyolite Ridge, along with Lithium America’s Thacker Pass project northwest of Winnemucca in Humboldt County, are large-scale lithium mining projects that have the potential to radically change global lithium production and alter the entire lithium supply chain – and closing that loop is primary goal of the Nevada Battery Coalition.
“Lithium is a very valuable material, and it makes sense to close the loop and have a full cycle from extraction, refining, incorporating into electric vehicles, and at the end of life for those batteries, they get recycled,” Rowe said. “To do that effectively, it’s very important that all this material stays in the United States so we have oversight of that closed loop.”
Lithium is plentiful throughout Nevada in both ores, clays and brines. Forming the Nevada Battery Coalition helps facilitate a united effort for lithium production, use and recovery, said Denis Phares, chief executive officer of NBC founding member Dragonfly Energy.
Other Nevada Battery Coalition members headquartered in Nevada include Ioneer, Redwood Materials, Aqua Metals, American Battery Technology Co., NV Energy, and a handful of additional businesses that encompass the full scope of lithium production, development, use and ultimately, recycling.
“We have a unique resource here in the amount of lithium we have in the ground,” Phares said. “Lithium batteries are going to play a huge part in our energy future, and it makes sense for the state to take advantage of getting the resource out of the ground, converting it into cathode-active material, producing and selling battery packs, and ultimately at the end of life, getting the packs back and extracting the usable elements out for reuse, including lithium, copper, nickel, and other components.
“The opportunity to take this resource and drive the energy future is enormous,” Phares added. “We need to set up the infrastructure for each one of those pieces of the supply chain, not just the mining, but the conversion to cathode, refining, cell production, pack assembly, and ultimately, recycling — that is the purpose of the collaboration here within the State of Nevada.”
Closing the lithium loop in Nevada — ensuring that lithium mined in the state serves Nevada-based companies and ultimately ends up at regional recycling and recovery operations – could put Nevada lithium operations on par with hard rock mining in the state, said Tyler Bourns, chief marketing officer of Dragonfly Energy.
“Lithium is a massive opportunity that can become a pillar of Nevada’s economy,” Bourns said. “But it is going to take everyone working together to make that successful because there are a lot of different specialties that take place within the industry.
“The Nevada Battery Coalition was created because we are stronger together,” Bourns added. “We can encourage partnerships with other companies in the state that have similar goals, and we can ensure that we are aligned in any political, community and educational initiatives. It’s really about the ability to be aligned with each other and share resources.”
Lithium mining in Nevada will look different than mining operations for precious metals such as gold, silver and copper, Ioneer's Rowe said – the ability to create a closed loop doesn’t really exist with those commodities. Once they are brought out of the ground and refined, they leave the state.
Ioneer and Lithium Americas are on the front lines of lithium production. Ioneer expects to produce about three to four times as much lithium carbonate annually as the 4,000 to 5,000 tons that’s currently being produced in the U.S., Rowe said.
“That’s a big step up and a significant amount of lithium, but it’s nowhere near what’s needed,” Rowe said.
Ioneer already has multiple binding off-take agreements in place for the bulk of the lithium it will produce, including with Dragonfly Energy. Approximately 18,000 tons of the lithium mined from Rhyolite Ridge will be delivered to Ford, Prime Planet (a joint venture between Toyota and Panasonic), and South Korea cathode battery maker EcoPro BM.
“With those three offtake agreements, we have stipulated that the lithium must remain in the United States,” Rowe said. “This is a rapidly developing industry, and there aren’t the facilities to actually process 22,000 tons of material into cathode in the U.S. today. But they are being built, and once they are operating, our lithium will go into those facilities to ensure it is mined here, it is processed here and incorporated into cathodes and ultimately batteries and electric vehicles all within the United States.”
Dragonfly Energy’s Phares told NNBW there will be a huge impact on the state of Nevada when the large lithium mines enter the production phase and begin supplying material to regional battery manufacturing companies such as Dragonfly.
“We are setting the stage for Nevada to become a huge player in the lithium industry,” Phares said. “It’s really in its infancy, but because of the uniqueness of the resource we have here, the opportunity is huge.
“As companies in the lithium usage sector grow, they will produce products that eventually will end up in the warehouses of the lithium recycling companies that also are growing their operations in the state. Nevada could support global distribution of lithium-based energy storage systems – that’s exciting, and it could put Nevada on the world map for lithium production.”
Innovation is the backbone of lithium production, use and recovery in the state, Phares added. Dragonfly Energy, for instance, has created innovative ways to produce cells and design battery packs. NBC member Aqua Metals uses an innovative method to extract minerals from spent lithium-ion batteries. Ioneer, meanwhile, has come up with innovative ways to extract lithium and boron from lithium-rich ores.
“We have domestic innovation that’s coming together and creating a strong domestic economy,” Phares said. “That’s critical. We are not just importing technology — we are developing it here, and that’s a necessary step to really reaping the full benefits of a closed lithium loop.”