KAUST startup Lithium Infinity (Lihytech) is proud to be partnering with Suntar International to develop cutting-edge lithium extraction technology from seawater to solve the surging demand for the metal.
KAUST professors Dr. Zhiping Lai and Dr. Kuo-wei Huang have spearheaded the research into the next-gen technology, which has the potential to not only disrupt the industry but also solve the pressing issue of lithium supply.
Lithium-ion batteries are relied on to power everything from common portable devices such as phones to motorized electric vehicles. Lithium is also set to play a central role in building a low-carbon future. However, sourcing enough to meet demand has been a challenge. The KAUST team has shown that seawater can act as a nearly infinite lithium resource.
By implementing a continuous electrical pumping process using a highly selective ceramic membrane, Professors Lai and Huang have demonstrated a game-changing method that is both technically feasible and economically viable.
“Our technology is based on a mature industrial process called electrodialysis, in which an electrical field drives lithium ions to pass through a selective membrane and get concentrated. The key to the technology is the membrane: it must be very selective to lithium as the lithium concentration in seawater is so low and there are massive amounts of other interference ions, such as sodium and magnesium. We luckily found a suitable ceramic material originally developed in the battery research field. This technology will enable Saudi to produce lithium to support its massive development in sustainable technologies in-line with Vision 2030 goals,” said Professor Lai.
Headquartered in Singapore, Suntar is a leading provider of filtration, separation and purification solutions. Suntar’s founder, Professor Weiguang Lan said, “Through KAUST’s strong research capability, their breakthrough technology and Saudi Arabia’s rich energy reserves, we hope to build an excellent platform and pave the way for Saudi Arabia’s transformation into a renewable energy hub and exporter of energy storage solutions.”
KAUST vice president for innovation and technology translation, Dr Kevin Cullen, remarked: “This is a great example of how KAUST can solve the most difficult challenges in the world and provide technologies for the wellness of all human beings.”