Electrodialysis technology to extract lithium from thermal sources gets award

Hydrothermal energy source. (Image by Alma Energy).

The Texas Academies of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST) granted $500,000 in prize funds to support a joint research effort by Houston-based Alma Energy and the University of Texas El Paso to extract lithium from hydrothermal waters.

“If this technology succeeds, it would be a really massive breakthrough in environmentally-friendly lithium extraction,” Benjamin Brunner, co-inventor of the solution and an associate professor of earth, environmental and resource sciences at UTEP, said in a media statement. 

The technology under development centers on electrodialysis, a process that uses a membrane to filter out certain elements from water. The team is developing a system that would allow lithium to pass through the membrane while keeping out other elements like sodium and chloride.

Brunner explained that if successful, the project would fulfill two purposes: extracting usable lithium and generating energy from hydrothermal waters to power the operations. The extracted water could be pumped back into the ground or cleaned and used for other purposes. 

In addition to the prior, the process of extracting the lithium under this new method may help remove carbon dioxide from the surrounding environment. The membrane system could also be used to clean brine water derived from oil and gas production.

Moving forward, Alma Energy will identify locations in Texas that may contain underground hot water sources with lithium while the UTEP team will further develop the membrane technology.