Pyrite, known as fool’s gold, may now be a real treasure

A pyrite rock in a person's hand

The shiny mineral that’s long been slandered as fool’s gold may turn into a legitimate treasure in the race for green energy resources. The transformation isn’t the result of alchemy, though. It’s because of a surprising find recently made by scientists in West Virginia.

Researchers working in America’s mineral-rich Appalachian region say they’ve found a connection between pyrite — the “fake” gold you might’ve gotten chunks of as a souvenir when you were a kid — and lithium, one of the most in-demand metals on the clean energy market. Lithium is an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles, but also laptops, phones and other electronics that use rechargeable batteries.

MORE: Scientists make ‘goldene,’ an ultra-thin version of gold

A team from West Virginia University was studying rock samples in the area when they found “plenty of lithium in pyrite minerals,” according to a press release from the European Geosciences Union, published on April 15 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The findings are “unheard of,” according to geochemist Shailee Bhattacharya, a doctoral student who worked on the study.

The exciting part of the findings, according to the researchers, is the revelation that lithium could be found without the need for new mining operations. The samples taken in this study were found in shale from sedimentary rocks left over by existing mining work that’s already been done in the Appalachian basin, in tailings that resulted from previous mining operations.

The statement notes that this research also “hints” at the shales as a possible future source of lithium in the U.S., which produces far less lithium than lithium-mining powerhouses Australia and Chile.

However, Bhattacharya and geologist Shikha Sharma, a WVU professor who also worked on the study, say not to get too excited about the findings, since their research was limited to one specific site. If additional research shows the relationship between pyrite and lithium to be more universal, it could lead to a sustainable boom in the availability of lithium.

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Clint Davis
Clint has watched way too many TV shows and movies and makes a great partner for trivia night. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, baby son and two massive dogs. Visit Scripps News to see more of Clint's work.

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