New lithium-extraction technology wins first prize at innovation forum

Written by
Beth Jarvie, Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education
Jan. 25, 2023

A technology that uses solar energy to extract lithium from seawater won first prize at a Princeton innovation showcase. The system has demonstrated an improvement of more than ten times the standard rate of extraction from brine. 

Sean Zheng, a postdoc at Princeton's Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, presented for his startup PureLi. The company's mission is to produce environmentally sustainable lithium, which is skyrocketing in demand with the development of such technologies as electric cars, cell phones and other battery-fueled technologies. The approach is particularly advantageous for use in the U.S., which currently mines and processes less than 1% of the global lithium supply, yet is the largest consumer of the mineral. 

Current lithium production typically involves much more energy-intensive methods, and the PureLi team, which includes Princeton engineering professor Jason Ren, believes their approach could make lithium both less expensive and more environmentally friendly.

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