Lithium Valley: USC experts on California’s ‘white gold’ rush

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Lithium Valley: USC experts on California’s ‘white gold’ rush

November 29, 2023

The modern world runs on lithium, an essential material for batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs) and most electronics, including smartphones.

The Salton Sea in southern California’s Imperial Valley—now aptly dubbed “Lithium Valley”—has emerged as a global hotspot for this critical mineral and contains some of the world’s largest lithium deposits, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy report.

But experts warn that the race to mine American lithium could come with significant environmental and public health impacts. USC experts are available for comment.

Contact: Nina Raffio, or (213) 442-8464; USC Media Relations, or (213) 740-2215

California enters the global race to mine and refine lithium

In recent years, both the pandemic and geopolitical tensions have highlighted the risks of relying on foreign sources for critical materials like lithium, nickel and cobalt that power the batteries in our EVs and devices, experts say.

To achieve energy independence and ensure a sustainable supply of these materials, the U.S. needs to focus on domestic production of lithium-ion batteries and their components, said Greys Sošić, an expert in sustainability and global supply chains at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“To enable sustainable future production from local resources, the U.S. needs to reduce the amount of lithium used in batteries and/or seek alternative local sources of lithium,” she said, pointing to geothermal brine lithium recovery—a process that extracts battery-grade lithium from natural geothermal brines found in hot springs—as a viable alternative.

“Southern California’s Imperial Valley is becoming known as Lithium Valley, thanks to numerous geothermal energy projects at the Salton Sea Geothermal Resource Area and the fact that the geothermal brine generated by the process is rich in lithium.”


Clean energy’s dirty secret: Lithium mining comes with hidden public health hazards, experts say

“The childhood asthma rate for the communities around the sea is 22% compared to the national average of roughly 8%. Many children in this area are affected by respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing and allergies, and the local air quality is a likely contributor to the high rates we see,” said Shohreh Farzan, a USC researcher who has been collecting samples of air particles at elementary schools around the Salton Sea since 2017.

“The tradeoff with lithium is that while it can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,  there is much that remains to be understood about the environmental impacts of the extraction process and whether this energy transition could impact the health of the surrounding communities.”

Jill Johnston, an associate professor in the division of environmental health at USC, adds that “while efforts to move away from fossil fuels and promote zero-emissions technology is important for public health, it is critical to avoid creating new environmental hazards. The overly burdened families near the proposed lithium extraction site deserve to have clean air and water and protection of their health.”

Contact: or

North America’s cost-competitive advantage

“Although the quality of the lithium in North America brine varies, the extraction and refining can be as little as one-fourth of the cost of conventional lithium production that occurs in Chile, Argentina, and Australia,” said Shon Hiatt, an expert in innovation and sustainability in the global energy and agribusiness sectors and director of the recently launched Business of Energy Transition (BET) initiative at USC Marshall.

“A risk posed is the volatility of lithium prices, which have cratered 70% this year due to lagging demand for electric vehicles. If the price continues to fall, then startups in the lithium direct extraction (DLE) newer companies like Controlled Thermal Resources, EnergySource Minerals, and Standard Lithium may not have the capital to weather the lower commodity prices,” he said.

Contact:, or follow on X @ShonHiatt


The Coliseum brings USC classroom concepts to life

Classes in the Coliseum: Tour

Students in seven different fall classes got an up-close look at the historic venue as part of their coursework. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


The Coliseum brings USC classroom concepts to life

Experiential learning classes use the historic venue as a living laboratory. Students explore the stadium’s rich past and current operations — and help envision its future.

November 29, 2023

By Rachel B. Levin

The year is 2123. You’ve arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch a USC Trojans football game. The stadium, now 200 years old, looks much the same — but the experience has been transformed.

An autonomous valet parks your car for you. A drone delivers your hot dog and soda to your lap. Augmented reality glasses make it seem like you have 50-yard-line seats, even though you’re in the end zone upper level. A neuro-enhancing device interfaces with your auditory cortex so you hear customized commentary about the game and your favorite players.

Though some of this technology is speculative, the proposals themselves are real. Students at the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy pitched these ideas to Coliseum staff this fall as part of their course “Industry Practicum: Designing and Implementing Real-World Solutions.” Their assignment was to imagine how the Coliseum — which turned 100 this year — might evolve in the next 100 years in response to emerging technologies and societal/community needs, and then design human-centered experiences and strategies to match those visions.

The course — taught by Yihyun Lim, assistant professor of practice in interaction design — is one of seven USC undergraduate courses this fall that includes an experiential learning component at the Coliseum.

Classes in the Coliseum: Matthew Buswell talks to students
In the USC president’s suite at the Coliseum, Matthew Buswell — the venue’s assistant director, facility operations — talks to students. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

While the iconic stadium adjacent to the University Park Campus has served as a learning laboratory for USC classes many times in the past, the current cluster of classes was planned to highlight the centennial celebration. Class tours and hands-on projects have allowed students to learn from the venue’s rich past, participate in its present operations and pitch ideas for its future evolution.

Coliseum staff members have served as guest lecturers, tour guides and sounding boards for student proposals, which, if deemed feasible, could be adopted by the Coliseum.

“I’m very interested in understanding what a new generation can see and envision,” said Joe Furin, general manager of the Coliseum. “They may spot things that [the staff] aren’t even thinking about. And that’s what’s very exciting.”

Classes in the Coliseum: Beyond football 

In October, students in the USC Thornton School of Music class “Concert Production and Promotion” — taught by Michael Garcia, associate professor of practice and chair of the music industry program — visited the Coliseum for a tour and talk. Staff members gave the class a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to produce large-scale music events at the stadium, which has hosted such huge acts as U2, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

Classes in the Coliseum: Students listen to Coliseum managers
Students, here listening to Coliseum managers, learn about the venue’s past, participate in its present operations and pitch ideas for its future through tours and hands-on projects. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

“The craziest part to me was [learning] that they do over 200 events a year,” said Giselle Strong, a junior with a music industry major. “I really only know them for football.”

The Coliseum has indeed been the home of USC Trojans football continuously since 1923 and under USC management since 2013. Yet the students in this semester’s “Sports Marketing” class at the USC Marshall School of Business — taught by Arianna Uhalde, an assistant professor of clinical marketing — developed marketing plans for the Coliseum that transcended athletics and encompassed concerts and cultural happenings, too.

“I think it’s fun for [students] to see the Coliseum from a different perspective, as if they were working to manage the Coliseum rather than cheering on the football team from the student section,” Uhalde said.

For Jack Doss, a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in sports media industries, the opportunity to share his ideas with Coliseum leaders infused his studies with real-world impact.

“There’s a big difference between just presenting to your classmates and presenting to actual executives or industry professionals,” Doss said. “It makes it feel like I’m in a real job, and that’s a unique experience you don’t get in most classes.”

Making sustainability accessible 

In keeping with USC President Carol Folt’s sustainability “moonshot” — which has goals including significantly reducing water usage, diverting landfill waste and achieving carbon neutrality at USC — several courses have explored the Coliseum through a sustainability lens.

Touring the recently renovated Coliseum offered USC School of Architecture students in the “Building Structures and Seismic Design” class a lesson in adaptive reuse. Instructor Bhavna Sharma, an assistant professor of architecture, explained that renovating structures generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than demolishing them and building anew.

“This was a direct opportunity to highlight how a 100-year-old building has managed to withstand the test of time and adapt to a changing culture … and still retain the essence of what was originally built,” she said.

Students in the environmental studies course “Operations and Impacts of Zero Waste Events” — taught by Monalisa Chatterjee, an associate professor of environmental studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences — observed the Coliseum’s waste-sorting processes on game days to achieve zero waste (at least 90% of waste is diverted from landfills). They assisted the Coliseum’s sustainability team by monitoring outside vendors to ensure that the products sold were either compostable or recyclable.

Chatterjee noted that her students were amazed by the scale of the effort. “Nobody realizes how much work goes [into it] unless you see it from the inside,” she said.

Classes in the Coliseum: Tour focuses on sustainability
A class tour exposes students to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s sustainability efforts. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Victoria Petryshyn — a USC Dornsife associate professor of environmental studies whose courses “History of Climate Change” and “Science, Policy and Business of Energy and Air Sustainability” both incorporated a Coliseum visit this fall — appreciated how that insider perspective helped her students formulate pitches for everything from reducing energy consumption to scaling back carbon emissions and water usage.

“Solving a sustainability issue for this enormous building … seems like so much to bite off,” Petryshyn said. “Then, when it’s broken down, they’re surprised at how much can be done.”

Sara Eyassu, a sophomore environmental studies major enrolled in Petryshyn’s “Science, Policy and Business of Energy and Air Sustainability” class, enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with classmates and Coliseum staff on a proposal to reduce energy use throughout the stadium using passive design strategies.

“It’s really great that we’re able to take something so local, so close to home, and [so] important to this university, and be able to apply it to a class,” Eyassu said. “It’s way better than just reading [material] from a textbook.”

Marina Fote, the assistant to the Coliseum’s general manager who coordinated each class’s on-site learning, noted that this fall’s crop of courses is just the beginning.

“The Coliseum team is very lucky to have the opportunity to learn and gain valuable perspective from so many bright, innovative minds,” Fote said. “We look forward to continuing to grow this mutually beneficial partnership with the USC schools we’ve already been working with and beyond.”

Inflation is no match for American holiday traditions

Holiday shopping

Despite economic challenges, USC experts predict that total spending on holiday shopping will rise, partly due to inflation. (Photo/iStock)


Inflation is no match for American holiday traditions

Americans are determined to keep the holiday spirit alive, despite rising costs, USC experts say. Even football games play an economic role.

November 22, 2023

By Nina Raffio

Americans are preparing for a holiday season marked by both tradition and uncertainty: Cherished traditions like Thanksgiving Day football remain, but supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures threaten to dampen the spirits of holiday shoppers.

“Despite a potential decrease in consumer spending power, the demand during the holiday season, especially around Black Friday, remains high,” said Nick Vyas, an associate professor of clinical data sciences and operations at the USC Marshall School of Business.

Consumer credit card debt is at an all-time high of over $1 trillion. The nationwide personal saving rate — the income left over after people spend money and pay taxes — is on a steady decline. Inflation continues to drive up the prices of goods and services, further straining Americans’ wallets.

Even so, USC experts predict that total holiday spending on gifts, food and other seasonal items will rise, partly due to inflation. While pay increases have not kept pace with recent or post-pandemic inflation levels, consumers are likely to spend to get what they are looking for this holiday season, experts say.

“Inflation has been with us for some time now and has come to be expected,” said Lars Perner, an expert in consumer behavior and an assistant professor of clinical marketing at USC Marshall. “Many consumers realize that with continued inflation, money will buy less in the future than what it does at the moment, even if savings receive modest interest.”

Holiday shopping: Americans gear up for Cyber Monday, Black Friday

Americans are ready to spend during the holiday season, and they’ll do so with a blend of traditional in-store shopping and online purchases.

Consumers are increasingly turning to online platforms for their holiday gift shopping, drawn to the convenience, wider selection and often better prices. But physical stores are expected to account for the majority of holiday spending, with some reports estimating that 80% of purchases will occur in brick-and-mortar settings.

“Cyber Monday is largely a historical relic,” Perner said. “From a technological point of view, there is no need for the event today when most households have high-speed internet access at home. In the old days, shopping could be much more convenient with faster internet connections available at work. Today, Cyber Monday has become an excuse for an additional round of sales.”

Are supply chains ready for holiday shopping?

Experts predict that the upcoming holiday shopping season will have its fair share of supply chain challenges, likely affecting Black Friday sales and promotions. Increased consumer demands can quickly overwhelm supply chains unprepared or recovering from previous disruptions, leading to stock shortages and potential customer dissatisfaction, Vyas said.

Global supply chains are still fraught with logistical bottlenecks, labor shortages and challenges stemming from ongoing geopolitical tensions, said Vyas, who is also the founding director of the USC Marshall Randall R. Kendrick Global Supply Chain Institute.

“Supply chain challenges persist in the U.S., with some reports indicating shipping times for many products still exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 20%-40%. This has a direct impact on product availability and pricing,” he said.

Despite challenges, experts see signs of strength and potential growth. Businesses have shown they can adjust supply chains based on past disruptions, making them more resilient against future shocks. Also, experts note that using advanced tech like artificial intelligence and blockchain helps make supply chains better and safer.

AI enables the analysis of vast amounts of data, leading to more accurate demand forecasting and inventory management, Vyas said, pointing to a recent McKinsey & Co. report showing that AI can slash forecasting errors by up to 50%. Blockchain technology complements AI by introducing an additional layer of transparency and security, Vyas said. Blockchain acts as a decentralized ledger that records and verifies all transactions, allowing companies to seamlessly track the movement of goods from origin to delivery.

Holiday shopping: football on field
For many families, Thanksgiving football is a holiday highlight — with games also providing a big economic boost to host cities. (Photo/Dave Adamson via Unsplash)

American football is a constant

On Thanksgiving Day, millions of Americans gather around their televisions to watch their favorite teams battle it out on the gridiron. For many, it’s the highlight of the holiday season, a time to come together with family and friends to enjoy a shared passion.

“Thanksgiving Day football games are deeply woven into the fabric of American culture and tradition — it’s all about turkeys and touchdowns. We pride ourselves in competition and the heat of the battle,” said Lorena Martin, an assistant professor of clinical data sciences and operations at USC Marshall. “The remarkable athletic prowess, coupled with the elegance of the game’s strategy and fierce competition, is an exhilarating spectacle for sports fans around the world.” The economic significance of football is equally undeniable, said Martin, an expert in sports business, sports performance and data analytics.

The NFL, one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues, generated $18.6 billion in revenue in 2022, eclipsing the earnings of several other major sporting leagues combined. NFL games provide a significant boost to host cities, particularly on high-profile days like Thanksgiving, she said.

“National broadcasts are valuable currency for all NFL franchises, as they provide an opportunity to expand their brand presence beyond their regional footprint and drive additional interest, and subsequently revenue, from that increased exposure,” said Courtney Brunious, an expert in sports business and an assistant professor of clinical management and organization at USC Marshall.

“Teams hosting or playing in Thanksgiving games are able to tap into a captive audience at home,” Brunious said, “which typically tunes in at amongst the highest rates of the season, or in the case of a venue, an audience that has built holiday traditions out of attending these games.”

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