The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has developed a sustainable process for rapid extraction of lithium and rare earth elements from natural brine and produced water.

A patented new process developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) enables increased U.S. production of lithium and rare earth elements (REEs). Lithium is a naturally occurring metal that makes up only 0.0007% of the Earth's crust; it's only found in minerals and salts, according to Jefferson's lab. However, since the early 1990s, lithium has become popular in rechargeable batteries. Rare earth elements are also used in various economic, energy and defense applications.

NETL said in the news that domestic resources would insulate the United States from disruptions in global trade in rare earth elements. Because the U.S. has only one lithium mine in Nevada, the additional domestic resources help address growing lithium demand.
Jinichiro Nakano, one of NETL's inventors, explained in the news that lithium carbonate is produced "directly" in brine by using a unique carbon dioxide injection technique. “The technology is a next-generation lithium direct extraction process that does not require adsorbents, absorbents and membranes. The process also does not require fresh water, solid state chemicals, acids and mineralization facilities to produce lithium minerals. Carbon dioxide can be mixed in this way to In brine, mineralization of brine occurs almost immediately, even under ambient conditions. This makes it possible to accelerate the recovery of critical materials from brine with a relatively small footprint and in an environmentally sound manner."

Natural brine consisting of groundwater, salt lake water, or seawater, which contains lithium and precious minerals such as a large amount of rare earth elements and key metals. Produced water is a by-product of the extraction of oil or natural gas from water-bearing rocks. When the fracturing fluid returns to the surface, it is also the result of hydraulic fracturing. Produced water can also be a source of lithium and rare earth elements.

One World Lithium Ltd is evaluating NETL's process for use in natural brines other than seawater and geothermal brines through a non-exclusive research and evaluation license.

NETL co-inventor Anna Nakano added that the new process has other advantages. “The carbon dioxide used in the process is readily available in the air, but also from industrial waste streams,” she said. “Because it is portable enough to facilitate full operation of the brine source, it eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise be required in the current process. capital investment.”

Nakano said innovative processes are a way to build sustainable domestic supply chains for lithium and rare earth elements. "In addition to natural brine and produced water, the process can extract lithium, rare earth elements, and other key materials from seawater," he said. "This process can be used as a tool for carbon sequestration and cleaning of contaminated water."