The modern day conveniences such as consumer devices and electric vehicles created an increasing demand for electrical energy production and storage systems. Those systems in turn have created a demand for a variety of elements including lithium, uranium and rare earth metals, which are used in lithium-ion batteries, nuclear power plants and solar cells respectively.
The demand for these elements is presently met by mining ore deposits in the Earth’s crust. However, this approach has several drawbacks:
The distribution of mineral resources is uneven, some of which is located in difficult-to-access regions.
The industrial-scale extraction and processing of ore has a substantial negative impact on the environment.
The available deposits of some scarce elements may not be sufficient to meet the increasing demands.
The oceans contain an enormous quantity of dissolved elements (including lithium, gold, silver, and rare earth elements) representing a possible alternative source for these industrially important resources. However, the concentration of the most valuable elements in seawater is low, and thus, large amounts of water must be processed to recover sizable amounts of these elements. This project aims to find economically feasible solutions to enable harvesting those valuable elements from the oceans.
The efforts, thus far, resulted in developing antifouling membranes for water desalination, porous materials for lithium-ion batteries, and highly stable nano-porous coordination polymers. Those materials can potentially be adapted to develop filters that selectively capture elements such as lithium from seawater.