Minerva Lithium makes use of absorbent materials to alter the best way we extract lithium • TechCrunch

The electrical the whole lot revolution is right here, and with it an unprecedented demand for important battery supplies. Essentially the most treasured of all? Lithium, the essential ingredient within the lithium-ion batteries that may energy the whole lot out of your Tesla to your iPhone. 

The issue is, extracting lithium is expensive, time-consuming, labor intensive and takes a severe toll on the setting. It both entails digging lithium-rich rocks out of mines, crushing them, roasting them, washing them with acid and roasting them once more, leaving massive open pits behind, or, by evaporative brine processing, taking mineral-rich water discovered deep underground, often called brine, and pumping it into massive ponds that evaporate 24 to 36 months below the solar. The entire different metals that get deposited on the base of the ponds — sodium, potassium, magnesium — get eliminated by publicity to dangerous chemical substances with a view to entry simply the lithium. 

a white filtration bag next to a silver column

Brine flows into metallic columns, which use Nano Mosaic to seize first all salts and minerals, after which simply lithium. Picture Credit: Minerva Lithium

A wave of so-called direct lithium extraction startups are elevating their palms with options to all of those issues. Amongst them is Minerva Lithium, a College of North Carolina at Greensboro spinoff that has produced Nano Mosaic, a coordinated polymer framework that appears a bit like black gravel and extracts important supplies from brine in simply three days. Only one gram of this absorbent materials has a floor space equal to that of a soccer pitch, in response to Sheeba Dawood, CEO and co-founder of Minerva, which ought to provide you with an thought of simply how little you’d must extract a considerable amount of minerals. 

Minerva, which is collaborating within the TechCrunch Disrupt 2022 Startup Battlefield, says that it might extract one metric ton of lithium utilizing simply 30,000 gallons of water, and it might do it in three days. Evaporative brine processing must evaporate 500,000 gallons of water to get to the identical quantity of lithium, in response to Dawood. 

Dawood stated Minerva’s is a two-step course of that entails inserting the Nano Mosaic materials right into a white filtration bag, which is then positioned right into a metallic column, pictured under.

“With out utilizing ponds or evaporation, we now have water flowing into the primary column, which captures all different minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium,” Dawood instructed TechCrunch. “Then it goes into the second column and solely lithium is captured. We then take the lithium out of the fabric and warmth it to get lithium crystals.”

Whereas Nano Mosaic, or “magic materials” as Dawood affectionately calls it, is Minerva’s precise product providing; the corporate’s enterprise mannequin will depend on the sale of lithium to battery producers, lithium producers and chemical firms. 

“We are going to accomplice with brine operators both from the lithium trade or chemical firms — for instance, bromine producers which have lithium of their water — to make use of our know-how and their brine assets in a strategic partnership,” stated Dawood.  

In different phrases, Minerva will promote Nano Mosaic to brine operators or bromine producers at no cost to low cost, permitting them to make use of their assets to extract lithium from brine. Minerva will then purchase the uncooked lithium again at an inexpensive fee, course of it and promote it to battery producers at a market fee that climbs day by day. The worldwide weighted common value of lithium carbonate was $60,442 per ton in September, in response to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. That’s up from $59,928 final month, and $18,353 September final yr. In September 2020, that quantity was $6,086 per ton.

Dawood says Minerva has already acquired loads of potential companions to return on board. Now, the corporate simply has to boost some extra money to get to the subsequent part. At Startup Battlefield, Minerva will search funding of $1 million that may assist the startup transfer towards its pilot demonstration so it might obtain third-party validation. To this point, the corporate has raised $500,000 by a collection of presidency grants and competitions. 

The pilot demonstration entails creating a “skid,” which is a modular unit, to carry 5 items of filters which can deal with about 171 gallons of brine per minute to extract a complete of 11 tons of lithium per day.  At immediately’s value of lithium, that might imply about $230 million in income per yr. 

Minerva Lithium team of four

Left to proper: Kelvin Adrah (intern), Hemali Rathnayake (co-founder), Sheeba Dawood (co-founder, CEO) and Zack Allen (intern). Picture Credit: Minerva Lithium

The cash may even assist Minerva rent some new technicians to help because it will get to the validation part. Presently, Minerva has about 4 staff, together with Dawood and her co-founder Hemali Rathnayake.

Dawood was doing her PhD at UNCG’s joint faculty of nanoscience and engineering, the place Rathnayake was her professor. She was researching an analogous polymer materials to the one Minerva is utilizing when she began excited about the potential for batteries to alter the world. 

“Everyone seems to be speaking about batteries, however is anybody actually speaking in regards to the minerals which are wanted within the battery?” stated Dawood. I researched and realized that important supplies are going to be the subsequent massive factor. Prefer it’s actually gold, and lithium is one among them. The U.S. solely contributes round 1% of complete world lithium.” 

Earlier than Minerva was formally based, Dawood and Rathnayake took half in a Nationwide Science Basis (NSF) program designed to assist universities with entrepreneurship packages. The 2 went from regional to nationwide intensive packages, touring everywhere in the U.S. and interviewing over 200 potential prospects, all people from CEOs to operators within the discipline, with a view to learn to get product-market match.

Dawood and Rathnayake spun out the corporate after Dawood graduated in June 2020. They got here up with the title Minerva Lithium as a result of UNCG’s emblem options the Roman goddess. By 2021, Minerva had acquired pre-seed funding from NSF. In March and April of this yr, Minerva scored additional funding from North Carolina that has taken the startup into its subsequent part. 

Whereas Minerva sees lithium as the principle attraction, the corporate sees its Nano Mosaic materials getting used for quite a lot of different functions. 

“Sooner or later, the [Nano Mosaic] can extract different important supplies like nickel and cobalt and may even be used for water purification as a result of it removes all of the dissolved salts from the water,” stated Dawood. “Perhaps the water might be used for irrigation or industrial functions. And likewise if it meets the requirements, it might be used for ingesting functions. So these are a number of the different avenues that the fabric has potential.”

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