This week’s United Nations climate summit was held in London. more than 40 world leadersThey agreed to work together to reduce the cost of green technologies, such as wind turbines and solar panels, in order to help us navigate the climate crisis.
One of those solutions is more batteries — something we’re exploring in the new Marketplace podcast, “How We Survive,” hosted by regular “Marketplace Tech” host Molly Wood.
Batteries are the key to getting off fossil fuels. The key ingredient in those batteries is a mineral called lithium. Charles Marston is a chemist that Molly interviewed for this episode. He’s the inventor of the ILiADIntegrated lithium adsorption/desorption can be used to extract lithium from geothermal salts.
“It’s a compact, elegant package of engineering and chemistry,” Marston said.
“So … it is a magic box,” Molly said.
“It is a magic box,” Marston confirmed.
This invention lives in a geothermal facility near the Salton Sea in Southern California. Molly has some background information. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Molly Wood Just to remind you, the Salton Sea has a lot of this hot, salty water. Companies have already begun to use this brine for geothermal power, solar energy, and now they want to extract lithium from it. The brine is a nightmare. It’s supertoxic and corrosive. And it’s really hard to get the lithium out efficiently without having to replace your pipes all the time. So far, it’s never worked affordably at scale.
Kimberly Adams And so in this episode, you’re talking about something you call the magic box. What is it?
Wood: One of the companies in Salton Sea created a device that extracts only lithium from brine. It is called the ILiAD [for integrated lithium adsorption desorption]. This company was able to solve some of those problems that had plagued other players in their attempts to extract lithium from the Salton Sea salt brine. They ended up creating this — I call it a gadget. Right now, it’s about the size of a refrigerator. It will soon be the size of an entire warehouse. Its true purpose is to extract pure lithium hydroxide from shaken liquid. This allows it to be used in batteries with minimal degradation. Your stuff doesn’t break down while you’re extracting the lithium. It extracts the maximum amount of lithium from the brine. And it seems like it’s going to be a game changer for this company in the sense that they’ll be able to license it to other companies. And it’s because this Salton Sea brine is such a remarkable character and so legendarily hard to work with, most everybody that we talked to agrees, even outside the company, that it’s a huge deal.
Adams Is this something that is possible?
Wood: That is the question. The problem is that the magic box is still only functioning at pilot scale. It seems that the magic box could be extracting lithium at an efficient rate in the Salton Sea, and other places around the globe, in just a few more years.