Lithium production through String Technology

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Researchers at the University of Princeton have developed a technique that can drastically reduce the amount of land and time needed for production of Lithium.

About the String Technology

  • A set of porous fibres twisted into strings and engineered them to have a water-loving (hydrophilic) core and water-repelling surface.
  • When one end is dipped in a salt-water solution, the water travels up the string because of capillary action.
  • Then, the water evaporates quickly from the string’s surface. This leaves behind salt ions such as sodium and lithium.
  • The water will continue to evaporate like this as the salts become increasingly concentrated, eventually forming sodium chloride and lithium chloride crystals.
  • The strings don’t just concentrate the salts. Since lithium and sodium have different physical properties, they crystallise at different locations on the strings.
  • Sodium, with its low solubility, crystallises on the lower part, while the highly soluble lithium salts crystallise near the top.


Current method of production

  • A large majority of the lithium produced in the world is extracted from “brine reservoirs” located in salt flats.
  • Conventional methods of extraction rely on a series of massive evaporation ponds that concentrate lithium from saltwater reservoirs, salt flats of underground aquifers. 
  • This method of production can require hundreds of square kilometres, and it often takes months or even years to produce lithium that can be used in batteries.
  • It is commercially viable in a few locations around the world.


Key facts about Lithium

  • It is a soft, silvery-white metal that belongs to the alkali metals group, of the periodic table of the elements.
  • Features
    • It has the lowest density of all metals.
    • It is the lightest of the solid elements. 
    • It reacts vigorously with water.
  • Occurrence:  
    • It does not occur as a metal in nature but is found combined in small amounts in igneous rocks.
  • Major Reserves: Its reserves are majorly concentrated in the lithium triangle in South America – Argentina, Bolivia & Chile, with 50% of the deposits concentrated in these regions. 


Q1) What is alkali metal?

The alkali metals are a group of chemical elements located in Group 1 of the periodic table. They are known for their highly reactive nature and are some of the most reactive elements in the periodic table.

Source: New ‘string’ technology could revolutionise lithium production