Lithium (Li)

Lithium is the earth’s 25th most abundant element. It is present in many geologic materials but almost always in low concentrations. Metallic lithium is so reactive with water and air that it does not occur naturally in its pure state, but only in the form of various salts. Lithium is required for a wide range of industrial and manufacturing uses, but is perhaps better known for its role in batteries, especially for electric vehicles.

Wyoming hosts minor occurrences of lithium. More information can be found in the 2015 report on lithium resources. A review of more than 26,000 samples of various geomaterials in Wyoming showed favorable concentrations only in isolated, small, pegmatitic occurrences. 

Lepidolite in pegmatite in the Copper Mountain area of the Owl Creek Mountains.


Currently, most of the world’s lithium is produced from shallow brine deposits that underlie saline lakes in the Atacama Desert of South America and from a spodumene mine in Australia. Australia, Chile, China, Argentina, and Brazil produce most of the world’s lithium compounds, while minor amounts are produced by Portugal, Zimbabwe, and Canada. Production in the United States is limited to a single brine operation in Silver Peak, Nevada, and commercial production from brine-sourced magnesium waste tailings. Lithium concentrations in producing brine deposits typically exceed 200 parts per million (ppm); concentrations in lithium mineral ores are higher than 5,000 ppm. Furthermore, the facilities that produce lithium at these minimal concentrations operate under financially advantageous conditions such as low production costs or reduced capital expenditures.

Mineral companies are looking for other sources of lithium throughout the world and in North America as industrial demands grow. Recycling, too, will provide additional sources, although the technology is in the early stage of development. In the United States, exploration is primarily targeting Cenozoic-aged intracaldera sediments and lacustrine clays in playas across the Basin and Range Province. Li concentrations in these sediments can exceed 3,000 ppm (Lithium Americas Corp., 2022). Hard-rock sources of lithium are typically derived from lithium-cesium-tantalum pegmatites, which can host the minerals spodumene, lepidolite, and petalite.

Wyoming Occurrences

The WSGS reviewed geochemical data for nearly 68,000 Wyoming sediment, soil, rock, and water samples obtained from seven state and federal databases. Additionally, WSGS geologists collected nearly 100 rock and soil samples for this study, which were evaluated along with more than 600 other WSGS samples collected in conjunction with other projects. Together, the database records and WSGS collected samples produced lithium concentration data for 26,386 samples of Wyoming geo-materials. The results of this study show lithium occurs in low levels in soils, groundwater, and rocks across Wyoming. With the exception a small deposit of spodumene, a lithium-enriched mineral, in the Rattlesnake Hills of southwestern Natrona County, lithium concentrations in Wyoming deposits are substantially lower than those found at the world’s currently producing sites. Small amounts of spodumene were mined at the Natrona County site during World War II, and spodumene is documented in isolated, small, pegmatitic occurrences near the Owl Creek Mountains. More information can be found in the 2015 report on lithium resources.

Additional Information

For more information, see the U.S. Geological Survey’s publication on lithium and annual Mineral Commodity Summaries for lithium and other commercial minerals

Lithium production pie chart
Lithium production for 2017 in tons (USGS, 2018).


Patty Webber,