Recovering Valuable Materials from Water to Boost Supply Chains

by Carolyn Mathas

Traditional mining has many challenges. Advancing clean energy depends on finding alternative ways to reliably access critical materials like those necessary for batteries, magnets for electric motors, catalysts, nuclear reactors, and other carbon-free energy applications. Water is an under-explored possibility for acquiring these materials.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory scientists recently published a comprehensive review that details how critical materials can be extracted from diverse water streams.

Different types of water offer different kinds of material resources. Oceans, wastewater, groundwater aquifers, and geothermal brines are all possible sources of valuable materials, including lithium.

Scientists are exploring different technologies to extract critical materials from different types of water. Some are traditional, while others are innovative. For example, there are methods to concentrate wastewater streams to recover valuable materials. ​One possibility is using porous photothermal materials that efficiently convert light to heat. Heat is transferred to the water directly at the interface with the surrounding air, significantly accelerating evaporation.

Argonne has rich capabilities in the supply chain, life cycle, and techno-economic analyses. In addition, the laboratory specializes in materials, chemistry, and process engineering, which is relevant to critical material extraction. A paper based on the study ​”Material design strategies for recovery of critical resources from water,” was published in Advanced Materials on March 31.

This work was supported as part of the Advanced Materials for Energy-Water Systems (AMEWS) Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory.

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