Monday, May 20, 2024

Turning Waste Into Power To Fuel Lithium Demand

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This comes from Marcellus shale’s untapped resource, potentially transforming the global battery supply chain and advancing America’s energy independence by 2030.

Most batteries found in devices such as smartwatches and electric vehicles are powered by lithium, which typically undergoes a global journey before reaching manufacturers. However, a study indicates that Pennsylvania could potentially supply nearly half of the lithium needs of the U.S. through wastewater sourced from Marcellus shale gas wells. According to a recent analysis of compliance data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, if lithium could be fully extracted from this wastewater, it could meet up to 40% of the national demand.

Researchers, including Justin Mackey of the National Energy Technology Laboratory and his Ph.D. advisor Daniel Bain from the University of Pittsburgh, have demonstrated the ability to extract lithium from water with over 90% efficiency in laboratory settings. The U.S. Geological Survey recognizes lithium as a critical element, emphasizing the federal push towards domestic production of all lithium by 2030.

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Currently, the U.S. imports significant quantities of lithium, primarily mined from brine ponds in Chile before being processed in China. However, the discovery of lithium in Marcellus shale wastewater represents a viable alternative. This wastewater, often a byproduct of hydraulic fracking, is known to contain various minerals and elements absorbed from the shale.

Regulatory requirements in Pennsylvania have facilitated this discovery, enabling researchers to conduct a comprehensive regional analysis. Each company involved in drilling must report the composition of wastewater, which includes lithium levels, used in their operations.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveal that exploiting this source could significantly advance the U.S. toward its 2030 lithium production goals. Moreover, similar potential exists in neighboring regions like West Virginia, although Pennsylvania currently holds the most comprehensive data.

The next steps involve assessing the environmental impacts of lithium extraction from this wastewater and establishing a pilot facility to refine the techniques needed for its recovery. As Mackey points out, wastewater from oil and gas operations presents a largely untapped resource that has been interacting with subsurface layers for millions of years, offering a unique opportunity to harness a critical resource domestically.

Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Sondhi Gaur is a journalist at EFY. She has a German patent and brings a robust blend of 7 years of industrial & academic prowess to the table. Passionate about electronics, she has penned numerous research papers showcasing her expertise and keen insight.

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