Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

Researchers form international partnership for sustainable lithium production

Published: 17 May 2019
UoS Scientists
Left-to-right:Nuria Garcia-Araez, Ernesto Calvo, Phil Bartlett, Sara Perez Rodriguez, John Owen

Scientists from the University of Southampton have joined forces with researchers in Argentina to develop a clean, fast and cheap approach for lithium production.

Professor Phil Bartlett and Dr Nuria Garcia-Araez from Southampton’s School of Chemistry will collaborate with the Universidad de Buenos Aires’ Professor Ernesto Calvo and CIT-JUJUY’s Professor Victoria Flexer as part of the new three-year partnership funded by The Royal Society.

Lithium rechargeable batteries are essential for enabling the growth of sustainable energy sources and play an important social role in Argentina where they often represent the only energy storage supply for remote, rural communities.

“Coping with the increasing demand for lithium worldwide in order to sustain the overwhelming growth of lithium battery applications is a real challenge,” Nuria says. “For the countries with the largest resources of lithium, such as Argentina, it is crucial that the production of lithium leads to an enrichment and reinforcement of the national economy, rather than only providing a profit to international companies, while preventing any detrimental effect to the environment.”

Current methods can only be used to extract lithium from lithium brines of a restricted range of compositions and even then up to 50% of lithium is wasted and has to be returned to the brine reserve. These methods of lithium extraction also have significant environmental effects on the delicate ecosystem around the lithium brines.

The new international partnership will develop the fundamental understanding of a new method of lithium production which has the capability to secure the sustainable production of lithium in Argentina and other countries. This, in turn, will enable the further expansion in the use of lithium rechargeable batteries, in Argentina and worldwide.

“The unique strengths of the new method of lithium production proposed here are the versatility and selectivity towards lithium,” Nuria explains. “Those properties are essential in order to be able to exploit more lithium resources, which current methods of lithium production are not able to handle.

“The method makes use of the exceptional lithium selectivity associated to lithium-ion battery materials, and drives the reactions by combining electricity - one of the cheapest and cleanest sources of energy - and novel chemical agents that are cheap and environmentally friendly.”

The consumption of lithium worldwide has experienced a dramatic increase in recent years, mainly due to the growth of the rechargeable lithium battery market. Lithium rechargeable batteries are essential for enabling the growth of sustainable energy in applications such as grid energy storage or electric vehicles.

Privacy Settings