Inspenet, September 16, 2023.
A revolutionary method with the potential to make lithium extraction faster and more environmentally friendly has been developed by a team led by Professor Z. Jason Ren of Princeton University.
Unlike conventional techniques that require extensive areas of land for evaporation ponds and limit their application to specific regions with arid climates and abundant lithium brine deposits, this novel process employs chains made from twisted cellulose fibers . This approach promises to reduce land demand by 90% and is feasible in a wide variety of locations, even those where the amount of brine available is limited.
What is this extraction method?
The chains, composed of porous fibers, have a core that is attractive to water (hydrophilic) surrounded by a surface that repels water (hydrophobic). These chains are placed on tanks filled with brine and thanks to capillary action, the liquid rises through the fibers, which facilitates the evaporation of its aqueous content when it comes into contact with air.
As a result, the chains are coated with lithium chloride and sodium chloride crystals, which can be collected manually. Furthermore, due to their differential solubility levels, lithium crystals form at the top while sodium crystals form at the bottom, preventing any mixing between them.
The team has put their theory into practice by implementing a system consisting of a set of 100 chains in order to further improve its effectiveness. In addition, they have founded a secondary company called PureLi Inc., with the purpose of commercializing this technology.
Study co-author Dr. Sunxiang (Sean) Zheng described the process: “Our process is like hanging an evaporation pond on a chain, allowing us to harvest the element with a significantly reduced spatial footprint and with more precise control of the process”.