Membrane electrolysis for resource-efficient lithium and water recovery from brines
2018 to 2020
Universidad de Jujuy (Argentina; coordinator), UGent, IVL
The electrification of our world drives a fast increase in demand for lithium, to be used mainly for batteries in electric vehicles and power storage from renewable but intermittent energy sources. Unfortunately, the most common methods to extract lithium belie the role in sustainability it is supposedly playing: lithium extraction from brines requires long-term and huge volumes of water evaporation, high chemical usage and production of waste.
With the Li+WATER project we propose a radically new, electrochemical process. We will in three stages, driven by renewable electricity and without input of chemicals, harvest not just the lithium but also other products present in the brines such as magnesium hydroxide, as well as recover the water. The latter is very important, as particularly the region in South America where most brines are found is water-short. The flexibility of our process will also enable turning towards less optimal, today uneconomic lithium sources, such as geothermal brines present in Europe. Key to our development will be an adequate understanding of how lithium can be electrochemically harvested in the presence of variable concentrations of other ions (Ghent University focus). This will in turn allow testing on real brines (Universidad Nacional de Jujuy focus), and finally perform technical, economic and environmental assessment of the future process (Swedish Environmental Research Institute focus).
If successful, Li+WATER will for the first time couple the role of lithium in sustainable development to a sustainable harvesting approach.