New Study Reveals Pennsylvania Wastewater Stream as Promising Source of Lithium

A new study reveals that the demand for lithium is set to soar in the coming years, thanks to the increasing popularity of electric vehicles and other battery-powered technologies. One surprising potential source of this essential metal is a wastewater stream in Pennsylvania.

Based on current projections, the world will require approximately 59 new lithium mines to extract 45,000 tonnes of the metal by 2035. Lithium is a crucial component in rechargeable batteries, which are used in a wide range of devices, from small appliances to large transportation vessels.

Researchers are exploring faster methods of harvesting lithium from brine pits, as well as unconventional sources such as the wastewater produced by fracking operations near Pittsburgh. An analysis conducted by the University of Pittsburgh suggests that if a technique could extract 100% of the lithium from this wastewater, it could meet 40% of America’s demand for the metal.

Currently, lithium can be efficiently removed from water at a rate of over 90%, making the goal of maximizing extraction from wastewater a realistic possibility. The Marcellus shale gas wells in Pennsylvania are not the only potential source of lithium-rich wastewater; researchers believe that West Virginia could also hold significant reserves.

Given that the US Geological Survey has classified lithium as a critical mineral, the government aims to produce all domestic lithium by 2030. This would involve moving away from the current process of extracting lithium from brine ponds in Chile, shipping it to China for processing, and then importing it back to the US for use.

Future steps in exploring wastewater as a lithium source include assessing the environmental impact of extraction and developing more efficient techniques. Study lead author Justin Mackey emphasizes the potential value in transforming wastewater, stating that improving extraction techniques could turn it into a valuable resource.

The researchers’ findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, highlighting the promising potential of wastewater streams as a sustainable source of lithium for the future.


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