Resnick Institute Seminar
Mining Critical Metals and Elements from Seawater-An Overview of Recent Advances
The availability and sustainable supply of technology metals and valuable elements is critical to the global economy. There is a growing realization that the development and deployment of the clean energy technologies and sustainable products and manufacturing industries of the 21st century will require large amounts of critical metals and valuable elements including rare-earth elements (REEs), platinum group metals (PGMs), lithium, copper, cobalt, silver, gold and uranium. Most of the critical metals and elements that are currently utilized in industrial manufacturing and energy generation, conversion and storage are produced through the mining, extraction and processing of mineral ores. Because there is a significant lag time between the discovery of new virgin ores and the commissioning of new mines, current and future shortages of critical metals and elements cannot be addressed by just opening new mines and mineral/metal extraction and processing facilities. Moreover, mining has a heavy environmental footprint, that is, it requires significant amounts of land, energy, and water and generates a lot of wastes. During the last two decades, advances in industrial ecology (e.g. material flow analysis), water purification (e.g. desalination) and resource recovery have established that seawater and desalination plant brines are important and largely untapped sources of critical metals and elements.
In this seminar, I will give an overview of recent advances in seawater metal mining. Following the introduction, I will discuss the potential of oceans as sources of critical metals and elements. I will then analyze the thermodynamics and energy requirements of metal mining from seawater followed by an overview of recent work on the development of a new generation of separation materials, modules and systems for the selective extraction of critical metals and elements from seawater using uranium as model system. I will then discuss the integration of metal/uranium extraction systems into existing and future desalination plants. I will conclude my seminar by providing an outlook for a model "Seawater Factory of the Future" that integrates water production with energy generation and resource recovery including metal mining.