With the world’s mobile devices now demanding more lithium, the substance has been in short supply. The global requirements have far outpaced mankind’s ability to produce lithium. A new report from Science Advances reveals that a research team at the University of Texas at Austin has created an innovative way to produce lithium.
The research team was headed by Professor Benny Freeman from the Monash University Engineering department. The team experimented with ways to extract lithium from water using a metal/organic framework membrane. Using this unique membrane, the process mimics the ion filtering procedure to efficiently separate metal ions.
Increasing the world’s supply of lithium
Experts believe this new technology could greatly increase the world’s supply of lithium. In addition, it could open the door to new growth in a number of industries. Texas is one state with unusually high amounts in the wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing. This supply is often wasted because technology has not been available to extract this element. All that is now changing.
Industry sources say that the Barnett and Eagle Ford shale produces close to 300,000 gallons of water each week. They say that one’s week’s supply of this water could result in enough lithium to power 1.6 million smartphones or 200 electric cars. The researchers believe that this process may be able to help with water desalination as well. They are hoping to be able to use the new membrane to dehydrate specific ions as they move through membrane channels. This novel method will hopefully be much more cost effective and use less energy than conventional means, according to researchers.
Professor Freeman commented, saying, “Produced water from shale gas fields in Texas is rich in lithium. Advanced separation material concepts such as ours could potentially turn this waste stream into a resource recovery opportunity.”
Other scientists in this field believe this could revolutionize the way we generate lithium ions and provide a more stable global supply. The research was funded by several scientific organizations in Australia.
Locating rich deposits of lithium
Lithium-rich water can be found in brine lakes located in Bolivia and Chile, as well as the San Andreas fault and a few other areas. A California geothermal power plant is already extracting lithium from its hot waste water. One of the big reasons why geothermal energy has never been widely used is its complicated and expensive process. Now, with this new technology, the whole procedure will become much cheaper. This could open doors for new startups and greater profits.
Like other alkali metals, lithium is unstable and requires special precautions. It is flammable and highly reactive. For that reason, it’s often stored in mineral oil. In spite of all this, it has become the number one preferred choice for manufacturing batteries due to its excellent ability as a conductor of heat and electricity.
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