A new water desalination technique has been developed using what are known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). This process could extract lithium and other metals and minerals from water making the seawater fresh to drink and the recovered lithium could be used in batteries.
The study published in Science Advances notes the new process could be a remedy in both filtering salt and metal ions from water. The scientists from the University of Texas at Austin developed the new desalination technique, according to Science Daily.
Huanting Wang, one of the authors of the new study, said the findings could be used to address the challenges of water desalination. He further noted that this study could open up the potential for removing salt ions from water in far more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable way.
The metal-organic framework (MOF) is a material that has massive internal surface area. It could capture, store, and release chemical compounds and molecules, including the salt and ions in seawater. Some studies show that MOFs could serve as urban water filters, carbon emission sponges, and high-precision chemical sensors.
The process could not only remove the salts from the seawater but also separate specific metal ions that are left behind in this spongy material. Lithium-ions extracted from the membrane could then be used for batteries, which power devices from smartphones to electric cars, according to New Atlas.
Wang said that lithium ions are abundant in seawater, making desalination just one application for the new metal-organic framework. It could be applied in the mining industry by filtering out lithium and other heavy metals from wastewater produced by fracking and other mineral extraction processes, making the water usable for other applications. He further said that global demand for lithium required for electronics and batteries is very high. He added that these membranes could efficiently extract lithium ions from seawater.
Likewise, Anita Hill, the CSIRO’s chief scientist, said that the prospect of utilizing metal-organic frameworks for sustainable water filtration is incredibly exciting from a public-good perspective. She further noted that efficiently extracting lithium ions from seawater could meet the global demand and create new industries.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin are now planning to continue studying how to make the MOFs more efficient at separating lithium ions and other metals.