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New Method Can Extract Lithium From Seawater

Discovery hails potential new era of cheaper and more environmentally friendly electric cars and smartphones.


Illustration of a charged battery

A new method to extract lithium in a more environmentally friendly and efficient way could have profound implications for the electric vehicle industry, according to researchers. Global production of lithium - an essential mineral for manufacturing the lithium-ion batteries that are found in everything from smartphones to electric cars - has sky-rocketed in recent years but current extraction techniques are slow and energy intensive. Furthermore, current extraction methods also require the lithium to be highly concentrated in the rock ore, meaning only a few countries have deposits worth mining.


However, in potentially very good news, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) have now come up with a way to extract lithium in a manner that they claim can overcome all of these issues. The new method is so effective, they say, that it can extract lithium from sources that have been previously impossible on a commercial scale, such as seawater and groundwater.


“Our method allows the efficient extraction of the mineral from very dilute liquids, which can greatly broaden the potential sources of lithium,” said Chong Liu, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago PME, one of the team whose discovery was published in the journal Nature Communications.


Their discovery could ultimately help reduce the cost of producing batteries and therefore lower the cost of electric vehicles. With new tariffs on imported batteries from China set to be introduced, the researchers said it could also secure domestic lithium supplies and reduce reliance on imports.

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