Plasma technology for more effective lithium extraction

Plasma Lithium Mineral Carnobation Device
Credit: Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE)

Applying plasma technology increases efficiency by 3-fold. Confirmation of a novel approach for lithium extraction from brine.

New research suggesting a improved method for extracting lithium by applying plasma technology has been recently published.

On the 31st of January, the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy(KFE) announced revealed that their researchers have successfully increased the lithium extraction rate by three times compared to pre-existing methods by applying CO2 microwave plasma technology.

The most common method of extracting lithium is mixing sodium carbonate(Na2CO3) to saltwater that contains lithium and extracting lithium carbonate(Li2CO3)-which is a mixture of lithium and carbon dioxide. The downside to this method is that it requires an additional process to separate the lithium carbonate from sodium impurities that blend together during the extraction process.

Lithium Mineral Carbonation Process usiong Plasma
(1) Plasma treatment of simulated brine that contains lithium
(2) The white material visible in the photo is the solidified lithium carbonate that formed through the mineral carbonation of simulated brine
(3) Lithium carbonate sediment has formed after plasma treatment
(4) Powdered lithium carbonate after (3) has been filtered
Credit: Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE)

There exists an alternative method in which carbon dioxide gas is used instead of sodium carbonate. However, the issue with this method is that extraction rates are low in brine where lithium salt-a bond between lithium and chlorine- exists. Research is required to address this issue.

Dr. Ji Hun Kim and Dr. Jong keun Yang of the KFE utilized carbon dioxide microwave plasma technology-which involves ionizing carbon dioxide into a plasma state-to increase the rate of lithium extraction.

Researchers at KFE conducted experiments to compare carbon dioxide plasma lithium extraction and pre-existing methods of lithium extraction utilizing simulated brine. The research showed using plasma technology increased extraction rates by around 3 times.

While direct injections of carbon dioxide gas netted 10.3% lithium extraction rates, in experiments using carbon dioxide plasma the lithium extraction rate reached 27.87%.

This is the first research that demonstrated an increase in lithium extraction rates by applying plasma technology to the lithium extraction process. The paper was published* in DESALINATION (IF 9.9)-an authoritative academic publication in the field of water resources.
*Novel approach for recovering lithium from simulated aqueous solutions using carbon dioxide microwave plasma (December, 2023)

Dr. Yang, who is the first author of the research paper, remarked that “It was possible to confirm the effects of the heat and ions, electrons, radicals etc that are generated when carbon dioxide plasma forms on lithium extraction rates” and continued that “We plan to expand research into plasma lithium extraction processes through additional research into carbon dioxide plasma reactions.”

Researchers are hopeful that lithium extraction processes using plasma can be a novel approach for developing technology that can more efficiently extract lithium from seawater with lower concentrations of lithium.

President Suk Jae Yoo of KFE remarked that “This research shows a new possible use for plasma technology, which has been used extensively in cutting-edge fields such as semiconductors.” Further, President Yoo remarked “Lithium obtained from seawater is a crucial component of fusion energy generation, and we will continue to conduct research into both fusion energy development and fusion energy fuel acquisition.”

The Korea Institute of Fusion Energy(KFE) is Korea’s only research institute specializing in nuclear fusion. Based on our development and operation of KSTAR, a superconducting fusion research device, the KFE seeks to achieve groundbreaking research results, develop core technology for commercializing nuclear fusion, and train outstanding nuclear fusion personnel. In addition, the institute is spearheading a joint effort to open the era of nuclear fusion energy in the mid-21st century through active participation in the ITER Project.

The KFE is leading the way in securing safe energy sources through nuclear fusion energy development as well as developing plasma-based technologies for a comfortable and clean environment. We are striving to achieve research results that benefit a wider public by developing plasma technologies applicable not only in high-tech industries but also in the environment and agricultural sectors.

Journal: Desalination
DOI: 10.1016/j.desal.2023.11697
Article Title: Novel approach for recovering lithium from simulated aqueous solutions using carbon dioxide microwave plasma
Article Publication Date: 1-Dec-2023

Media Contact

Eunhye Bae
National Research Council of Science & Technology

Expert Contacts

Dr. Jong-Keun Yang
Korea Institute of Fusion Energy(KFE)
Office: +82-63-440-4266

Eun-Hee Kwon
Korea Institute of Fusion Energy(KFE)
Office: +82-42-879-6270

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