The supply of lithium, used for batteries, that power our electronics is running out. By 2028, there will be significant shortages due to overwhelming demand. Already high demand for lithium is driving price increases for batteries. Further, land-based lithium mining is water intensive and damaging to the environment.
Demand for lithium is surging. Lithium-ion batteries are used in many electronics including cell phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. Worldwide lithium demand is growing from 250 thousand tons per year to over two million tons per year by 2030, an 800% increase.
Land-based reserves of lithium are limited, with only 22 million tons in known reserves. However, the oceans can more than meet ongoing demand, with over 230 billion tons of lithium. KAUST has developed a way to harvest this lithium.
KAUST’s technology can extract lithium from seawater. The process drives seawater under an electrical field through a special membrane. Lithium passes through the membrane while unwanted elements are blocked. This allows lithium to be collected cost effectively. The filtered seawater can be returned to the ocean safely with no environmental impacts.