The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has developed an easy way to strain lithium from seawater using a special ceramic film.
According to a recent JAEA announcement, it is possible to generate electricity when lithium ions are filtered through the film.
Japan Atomic expects the technology to find industrial applications if the film can be made thinner to raise the efficiency of the ion collection.
Lithium is the main component in the lithium-ion batteries that power today’s gadgets, and demand is growing for lithium as use of mobile phones, personal computers, automobiles and rechargeable batteries grows.
Lithium is mostly produced in saltwater lakes in South America, but there are fears the supply may dwindle. While seawater holds unlimited amounts of lithium, but its extremely low density makes lithium ion collection involving energy cost-prohibitive.
JAEA researcher Tsuyoshi Hoshino and his team found ways to use ceramic film for separating lithium from seawater. Ceramic is being developed as an electrolytic material for next-generation lithium-ion batteries.
In an experiment, the researchers used a ceramic film to separate seawater from dilute hydrochloric acid solution and connected electrodes on both sides of the film with an electric wire.
Lithium-ion in the seawater naturally passed through the film to the solution and was concentrated. Electrons and chlorine gas were generated from the negative electrode in the seawater, and the electrons moved to the positive electrode in the solution to generate hydrogen gas.
After running the experiment for 30 days using six pieces of film covering 5 sq. cm and 0.5 mm thick, the researchers collected some 20 mg of lithium carbonate from the solution, JAEA said.