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Experts said there is not a significant amount of lithium in Maui or Hawaii, and there are no plans to mine lithium in that state.
There’s no evidence that Maui’s wildfires were set intentionally.
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Growing demand for electric vehicles, smartphones and laptops is driving a global rush to find more lithium, the metal needed to power those devices’ batteries.
Some social media users are trying to link the lithium demand with Hawaii’s recent wildfires.
Claims say the deadly August wildfires in Maui were set intentionally to clear the way to mine for the metal.
"One hundred twenty million tons of lithium in Maui. I don’t think we need to wonder why they did what they did there and why it happened," said a man in a video shared Sept. 12 on Instagram. "It wasn’t an accident, people. Somebody with some money wanted some more money."
The video shared on Instagram originated Sept. 12, on TikTok. By Sept. 14, it had more than 15,000 likes on that platform.
TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)
There’s no evidence Hawaii’s wildfires were set intentionally. An official cause hasn’t been determined; Maui County officials in a lawsuit blamed downed power lines, which utility company Hawaiian Electric disputes.
There has been no discovery of large amounts of lithium in Maui or anywhere in Hawaii, experts told PolitiFact, nor are there any plans to mine lithium in the state.
The TikTokker appears to be basing his claim on a recently published study about a large lithium deposit in a volcanic crater along the Nevada-Oregon border.
Researchers said an area known as the McDermitt caldera — the remnants of a 16-million-year-old supervolcano — could hold up to 120 million tons of lithium.
In a second TikTok video posted Sept. 12 by the same creator, he briefly appears on screen as a video from another user plays in the background. A man in the video being excerpted mentions news of the McDermitt discovery. He then said, "Why Maui? Well, if this one volcano had 120 million tons of lithium, I wonder how much that’s in 129 different volcanoes."
So, with its volcanic history, is Hawaii holding millions of tons of lithium?
Brian Jaskula, a mineral commodity specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Minerals Information Center, said he knows of no research into lithium deposits in Hawaii and it’s not something the lithium industry is discussing.
"Quite a few geochemical conditions have to be met for a volcano to have the capacity to produce lithium," Jaskula said. "Hawaii's extinct volcanoes may have these conditions, but the only way to confirm this is to start digging holes and taking measurements."
Other experts told PolitiFact that it’s unlikely large lithium deposits would be found in Hawaii. The type of magma in volcanoes there isn’t associated with lithium.
Michael McKibben, a research professor in the Earth & Planetary Sciences department at the University of California, Riverside, said there isn’t any significant lithium "anywhere in the world associated with basaltic volcanism," which is the type of magma found in Hawaii’s volcanoes.
Lithium is associated with granitic and rhyolitic volcanism and sediments derived from them, McKibben said. Rhyolitic and basaltic refer to the chemical classification of magma — the hot fluid under Earth’s crust.
Basaltic magma, the type in Hawaii’s volcanoes, escapes the Earth’s crust faster than rhyolitic magma, which stalls in the crust, giving more time for magma to become enriched in lithium.
"In simpler terms, the more ‘evolved’ a magma is, the more lithium it will have," said Tom Benson, a co-author of the McDermitt caldera study and vice president of global exploration at Lithium Americas, a Canadian mining company.
Lithium deposits are found only in continental crustal settings, Benson said. The magmas in Hawaii are formed on oceanic crust, he said.
Hawaii’s magma "therefore would never reach concentrations (of lithium) even close to be considered profitable to extract in associated rocks."
An Instagram post said the Maui wildfires were set intentionally because there are 120 million tons of lithium in Hawaii.
But experts said Hawaii’s basaltic volcanoes are not the types in which lithium is found. There are no plans to or interest in mining for lithium in Hawaii.
There’s no evidence the wildfires were set intentionally. We rate the claim Pants on Fire!
Science Advances, Hydrothermal enrichment of lithium in intracaldera illite-bearing claystones, Aug. 30, 2023
Tom Benson, vice president of global exploration at Lithium America, email interview, Sept. 13, 2023
Michael McKibben, research professor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, email interview, Sept. 13, 2023
Brian Jaskula,mineral commodity specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Minerals Information Center, email interview, Sept. 13, 2023
Matthieu Dubarry, associate researcher at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii, email interview, Sept. 13, 2023
Government of Canada, Lithium facts, accessed Sept. 13, 2023
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Evolution of Hawaiian Volcanoes, accessed Sept. 13, 2023
National Geographic, Scientists just mapped Hawaii’s volcanic underbelly in stunning detail, Dec. 22, 2022
ZME Science, Researchers used deep learning to map Hawaii’s magma network in spectacular detail, Dec. 23, 2022
Popular Mechanics, A Caldera in Nevada Now Has the Most Lithium in the World. Let the Gold Rush Begin., Sept. 12, 2023
The New York Times, Number of Missing in Maui Wildfires Drops to 66, from Hundreds, Sept. 11, 2023
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