If the world is going to make the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy, we’re going to need lots of energy storage, and a lot of lithium. The global transition to clean energy is expected to trigger a 40-fold increase in the demand for lithium by 2040.
Lithium is in high demand, but current methods for lithium extraction make it difficult and expensive to source. Conventional extraction methods take up lots of land, use lots of water and energy, and often have devastating environmental impacts.
Traditional lithium extraction uses massive evaporation ponds, where lithium-rich-brine, (meaning saline groundwater that is rich in lithium) is pumped to the surface and evaporated until it can be processed and extracted.
These projects often require as much as 10,000 acres of land, and only recover 40% of the lithium available in the brine.
To make the lithium ion batteries we need to power our electrified world, and more specifically to power the electrification of transportation, we’ll need to source lithium in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, yields tons of high purity lithium concentrate, and uses as little land as possible. And that’s exactly what this month’s Watt It Takes guest, Dave Syndacker, Founder and CEO of Lilac Solutions, is building.
Lilac Solutions created superior ion exchange beads using ceramic materials that absorb lithium from brine. Lithium rich brine is pumped into a vessel containing the ion exchange beads, which absorb the lithium. Then, hydrochloric or sulfuric acid is used to flush out the lithium to produce lithium chloride or sulfate. Those intermediate forms of lithium are then converted to lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide which get used to make batteries.
Emily spoke to Dave about his journey to becoming a founder, from his childhood on the beach in Rhode Island, to leading seminars about battery technology at Northwestern where a few provocative questions from fellow students put Dave on the path to create Lilac.
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