Filtering technology increases speed, recovery rates from lithium brines

Bolivian Salt flat. (Image courtesy of EnergyX).

A study published in Nature Materials presents a new filtering method to speed up the process of extracting lithium from salt brines.

With less chemical waste and less overall cost, the technology uses an advanced nanomaterial filtering membrane called a metal-organic framework (MOF), a material that mimics the filtering function or ‘ion selectivity’ of a biological cell membrane.

Inspired by the precise filtering capabilities of a living cell, the international research team behind the study developed a synthetic MOF membrane that is precisely tuned, in both size and chemistry, to filter lithium molecules in an ultra-fast, one-directional and highly selective manner.

EnergyX’s studies show that for every tonne of lithium utilized in batteries for EVs, 134,000 tonnes of CO2 are displaced

Currently, lithium extraction from salt brine is a time and labour intensive process that produces large amounts of waste.

Brine from underground deposits, largely found in the South American ‘Lithium Triangle,’ is pumped to the surface and moved through a series of massive evaporation ponds with chemical treatments added. This process has a lithium recovery rate of only about 30% compared to ~90% with MOF miracle material.

Given these results, which are presented in the study, the new filtering technology is expected to be available soon.

“Earlier in 2019, EnergyX executed a worldwide exclusive license to commercialize the technology. The company has built an impressive portfolio of patents around the core technology, and created relationships with top membrane experts and key manufacturing partners to accelerate the road to commercialization,” the US-based company, who is collaborating with one of the authors of the research at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a press release.

“EnergyX is already in conversations with the world’s largest lithium production companies about deploying onsite pilot plants utilizing MOF technology.”