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Seawater could provide nearly unlimited amounts of critical battery material

Booming electric vehicle sales have spurred a growing demand for lithium. But the light metal, which is essential for making power-packed rechargeable batteries, isn’t abundant. Now, researchers report a major step toward tapping a virtually limitless lithium supply: pulling it straight out of seawater.

“This represents substantial progress” for the field, says Jang Wook Choi, a chemical engineer at Seoul National University who was not involved with the work. He adds that the approach might also prove useful for reclaiming lithium from used batteries.

Lithium is prized for rechargeables because it stores more energy by weight than other battery materials. Manufacturers use more than 160,000 tons of the material every year, a number expected to grow nearly 10-fold over the next decade. But lithium supplies are limited and concentrated in a handful of countries, where the metal is either mined or extracted from briny water.

Lithium’s scarcity has raised concerns that future shortages could cause battery prices to skyrocket and stymie the growth of electric vehicles and other lithium-dependent technologies such as Tesla Powerwalls, stationary batteries often used to store rooftop solar power.

Seawater could come to the rescue. The world’s oceans contain an estimated 180 billion tons of lithium. But it’s dilute, present at roughly 0.2 parts per million. Researchers have devised numerous filters and membranes to try to selectively extract lithium from seawater. But those efforts rely on evaporating away much of the water to concentrate the lithium, which requires extensive land use and time. To date such efforts have not proved economical. Please, to access the full article visit Science AAAS biotechdesign.io