New membrane tech promises cleaner, cheaper, faster lithium

Chunks of Petalite, petalite or castorite is an important mineral for obtaining lithium, battery industry, lithium source (critical minerals)
Petalite or castorite is an important mineral for obtaining lithium (Image: Shutterstock)

Monash University startup ElectraLith is building an extraction system to filter lithium from brine using a polymer-ceramic composite membrane, allowing the critical mineral to be extracted from salt lakes, mine tailings and other brine solutions using small amounts of solar generated electricity and without added chemicals or water.

Harnessing the power of cutting-edge electro-filtration membrane technology, ElectraLith seeks to usher in a new era of lithium extraction, propelling the battery market into a cleaner, cheaper and faster future.

Related article: Lithium battery recycler wins Supercharge Australia Award

At the forefront of this groundbreaking technology is Professor Huanting Wang. An Australian Laureate Fellow and the Director of the ARC Research Hub for Energy-efficient Separation at Monash University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. His pioneering work in nanostructure membranes has paved the way for ElectraLith’s game-changing technology.

“Current lithium extraction methods involve either roasting hard rock at high temperature and dissolving it with hot sulfuric acid, or evaporating brines in a solar pond, both of which use chemicals to precipitate lithium out. It is time consuming, disruptive, expensive and wasteful. My research in nanostructure membranes is all about efficiency and ingenuity to make the most of this limited mineral resource,”  Professor Wang said.

Recognising the potential of this innovation, Monash Engineering’s Dr Zhouyou (Emily) Wang has been awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Early Career Industry Fellowship to further develop and commercialise the novel membrane-based technology intended to transform the lithium mining and recycling industries.

“Even though seawater is a brine, the concentration of Lithium is too low for cost effective extraction, but we are already thinking about designing the next generation of membranes to improve Lithium extraction, so maybe in the future we can extract Lithium from new sources,” Dr Wang said.

ElectraLith has been selected by Australian technology incubator Cicada Innovations, the two-time winner of ‘Top Incubator in the World’, to feature its technology at Australia’s premier deep tech conference, the newly-named Cicada x Tech23.

Selected from over 130 applications from across Australia, ElectraLith is one of the ‘Tech23’ set to appear at the conference in July and present solutions on sustainably reshaping global mineral supply chains.

Related article: Aussie lithium powering the global energy transition

Lithium is a critical mineral and its demand is skyrocketing due to its global use in large-scale batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. To meet this exponential growth, lithium supply is projected to increase up to 800% or approximately one million tonnes per annum by 2050 to meet renewable energy demand, making the need for efficient extraction methods more critical than ever.

This new technology is compatible with renewable electricity and has the potential to reduce lithium production costs by up to 40%, thereby making onshore processing more competitive with the lowest energy requirement and environmental impact of all approaches to lithium refining.

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