Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, along with a number of companies, are testing a method for extracting lithium from wastewater using magnetic nanoparticles. Technology offers hope: Will we soon be able to extract rare metals locally?
Lithium is an essential part of batteries in nearly every electronic device, from phones to… Electric car batteries† Due to the energy transition, the demand for the rare metal is only expected to increase. This is a challenge, because stocks are limited. It is estimated that about half of the global lithium supply is located in the “lithium triangle” on the borders of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. In addition, lithium mining has a significant environmental impact on the surrounding environment.
Other sources of lithium
So it is becoming increasingly important for countries to find new sources of lithium. Fortunately there. For example, lithium is also found in water pumped from oil and gas fields in the United States and Canada. Only it is very difficult to separate lithium from water.
But scientists now have a solution for that. They have developed tiny magnetic iron particles surrounded by an absorbent sheath. Lithium from wastewater binds to iron. You then harvest the iron, along with the lithium attached to it, from the wastewater using a powerful magnet. Scientists estimate that if only 25 percent of the lithium in such waters today were captured, it would be equivalent to the current annual global production.
Pure lithium, lower costs
Moreover, the technology may be cheaper than traditional mining. “Thanks to the magnetic nanoparticles, we expect the obtained concentration to be very pure. This cuts the cost of additional processing by more than half,” said CEO Jerry Mills of Moselle, the Texas company that patented this technology. Nanoparticles can be used many times as icing on a cake.
Dutch company German lithium mining
Researchers also see possibilities Lithium mining of geothermal facilities and salt water mines. These sources of lithium are also being tapped close to home. Vulcan wants to extract tons of lithium from saltwater mines in Germany’s Rhine region. Although it will take until at least 2023 before the plant becomes commercially feasible.
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