Lithium extraction process for renewable energy storage

  • Anode
  • Portability
  • Cathode
  • Storage
  • Energy storage
  • Cell

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INQUIMAE (CONICET) and University of Buenos Aires, School of Science

Published 01 Feb 2017

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Lithium extraction process for renewable energy storage

Our innovation is an electrochemical method that employs lithium insertion battery type electrodes in a two-step selective process that applies an electrical current through a lithium selective electrode and a chloride selective electrode immersed in natural brine from salt flats:. Lithium chloride is then released by reversing the electrical polarity with the electrodes immersed in a recovery electrolyte. We have achieved the proof of concept, filed patents and at present we are developing the scale up electrochemical engineering for its industrial application. The electrochemical process has several advantages: short times (hours rather than months), low energy consumption using solar panels, high selectivity of lithium over sodium needed for battery grade lithium salts, and is environmentally friendly. A filter press type electrochemical reactor with a stack of alternating lithium manganese oxide cathodes reversible to lithium ions and polypyrrole anodes reversible to chloride ions, both supported on 3D carbon electrodes is being scaled up. Lithium-containing brine is flown perpendicular to the electrical current direction. Since the lithium ion capture is a spontaneous battery process generating energy, electricity from solar panels is converted into recovered lithium chloride in a second electrolysis step.

How it benefits society

This is a sustainable energy storage project from renewable energy sources (solar and wind) for remote electrification, environmentally friendly electric vehicles and widespread portable electronics. South America has 65% of the world lithium reserves and 80% of lithium containing brines at high altitude salt flats: Bolivia (Uyuni), Chile (Atacama) and Argentina (Puna). In south America 30 million people do not have access to electricity, i.e., a 7.5 GWh market for remote electrification based on renewable solar energy which will require batteries for off peak energy storage with a life time as long as the solar panels (15 years or more). Lithium ion batteries are well suited for this. The emergence of electric vehicles requires lithium, the lightest battery metal with high energy density, for replacing fossil fuels emitting CO, particulate matter and contributing to CO2 global warming. The present evaporation lithium extraction process from natural brines is very slow, losses millions of gallons of water per ton of lithium carbonate produced and releases sodium chloride and magnesium sulfate waste to the environment. Local communities, local governments and companies extracting lithium, manufacturing and using lithium batteries will benefit from our solution. Also local scientific and technology activities at the new lithium research center in Jujuy, Argentina will attract PhD students and young researchers worldwide.

Who we are

INQUIMAE (CONICET) and University of Buenos Aires, School of Science
Prof. Dr. Ernesto Julio Calvo
Buenos Aires City and Jujuy Province (Argentina)

The Project team under direction of Prof. Ernesto J. Calvo at INQUIMAE and Buenos Aires University and the cooperation of Dr. Victoria Flexer at CIT-Jujuy and University of Jujuy has several research fellows, posdocts and PhD students funded by CONICET: MSc. Chemistry Florencia Marchini (Buenos Aires) studies the processes for lithium extraction and Chem. Eng. Valeria Romero (Jujuy) develops the engineering of electrochemical reactors for the extraction of lithium. The Institute of Chemical Physics for Materials, Environment and Energy (INQUIMAE) is jointly funded by the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and the Argentine National Science and Technology Research Council (CONICET). Prof. Calvo is a specialist in electrochemistry with more than 160 publications (h = 35), holds a degree in Chemistry (UBA 1975) and a PhD in Chemistry (University of La Plata, Argentina 1979). After a postdoctoral fellowships at the Imperial College, UK (1979-1982) and a Senior Research Associate appointment at Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, US (1983-1984), he became Professor of Physical Chemistry at UBA and Senior Research Fellow of CONICET. At present he is Director of INQUIMAE and has been Vice-president of the International Society for Electrochemistry (2009-2011), Fellow of the RSC as well as Guggenheim Fellow 2000. In 2012 he started research in lithium electrochemistry. Dr. Victoria Flexer, after a PhD in chemistry (2007) at UBA, postdoctoral fellowships in France (2008-2010), Australia (2011-2012), and Belgium (2013-2016), has started as research leader in electrochemical research in a newly created Lithium Research Center in Jujuy, Argentina. The construction of Aa new building to host the Lithium Center is under way and expected to be completed by mid 2017.

http://www.inquimae.fcen.uba.ar/home.htm

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