Cheap Lithium could be Extracted from Seawater Using this New Technique

Lithium is a common element in modern life, helping to power many of our devices, but for many reasons that encourage capitalism, this valuable resource is expected to deplete in the next more than 60 years. A solution could come from the sea, where the amount of lithium is 5,000 times higher. Seeing the presence of plenty of minerals in seawater solves the problem in a way that ensures that you have pure lithium.

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have developed an approach that could help. As published in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Sciences, the team has developed an electronic chemical house with a ceramic membrane made from lithium lanthanum titanium oxide (LLTO). The membranes have a crystal structure that allows lithium atoms to pass through when blocking larger, unwanted atoms.

Postdoc Zhen Li, who developed the cell, said in a statement, “LLTO membranes have never been used to extract and condense lithium ions.” The system was able to produce 1 kilogram (approximately 2 pounds) of lithium phosphate using about 76.3kWh of energy, hydrogen, and chlorine gas by-products. Water purification can also be used to supply fresh water to plants. All of these costs are considered to offset costs.

The lithium thus extracted contains only traces of other components, making it pure enough to meet the standards of battery manufacturers. The method is now small in size so there are still questions about the ability to make it smaller, so the LLTO uses not only lithium but also another rare element, lanthanum. Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology believe it is an economically viable way to extract high-purity lithium from seawater.

Previous attempts to ignite lithium from a mixture of the metal together with sodium, magnesium and potassium in seawater had little effect. Although the liquid contains 5,000 times more lithium than is found in land, it is present at a very low concentration of about 0.2 parts per million (ppm). To solve this problem, the team led by Zhipping Lai tried a method that had never been used before to extract lithium ions. They employ an electronic chemical cell with a ceramic membrane made from lithium lanthanum titanium oxide (LLTO).