The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, under the U.S. Department of Energy and in collaboration with Moselle Technologies, recently launched a technology that utilizes magnetic nanoparticles to extract valuable minerals from brine.
The nanoparticle is made up of magnetite, which is a form of iron oxide. These particles can be introduced into brine from seawater, mineral mining effluent, produced water and geothermal plants where they capture free-floating minerals. The iron core in the nanoparticles is attracted to any magnet it’s exposed to, together with the material it has captured, which can then be filtered from the brine.
While its patent is yet to be approved, the technology is being modified for lithium extraction. In a media statement, Pete McGrail, an expert on rare earth mineral recovery technology and lab fellow at the national laboratory, noted that the present techniques for extracting lithium from water need a processing step that pumps thousands of gallons of water per minute via an ion exchange filtration system, making the approach both expensive and energy intensive.
McGrail explained that the nanotechnology process the lab had developed enabled lab technicians to make everything smaller, which eliminated the need for ion-exchange separators which are needed in other processes. He added that the new sorbent would take a short time to capture almost all the lithium from the solution, which would make it easier for the mineral to be removed with a magnet before being purified. Lab experts expect that the process will work well with gas and oil brines, which are considered to be an untapped lithium resource.
The researchers at the lab also revealed that the technology was ready for field testing, having undergone laboratory development for a few years now.
Field testing will take place at the lab’s Richland campus located in Washington where the scientists partnered with Conoco Phillips and Natural Resources Canada as well as Moselle to carry out stress tests by putting the technology through extended cycle testing.
In a press brief, CEO of Moselle Technologies Jerry Mills noted that utilizing magnetic nanoparticles, which extract lithium particles from the solution, would result in purer concentrates, which decreased the cost of additional processing. Apart from lithium, the technology will also be used to recover other critical minerals such as cesium.
McGrail revealed that the lab would also be working with Geo40, a geothermal company based in New Zealand. For the project, he noted, the researchers would use the data for lithium recovery on sorbents that can capture cesium.
It will be interesting to see how this new method of extracting lithium can be tweaked to meet the process needs of other companies, including those like GoldHaven Resources Corp. (CSE: GOH) (OTCQB: GHVNF), which are involved in the extraction of resources such as gold.
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