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7 ORNL Inventions Licensed To Texas-Based Lithium Recovery Firm

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A collection of seven technologies for lithium recovery developed by scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been licensed to Element3, a Texas-based company focused on extracting lithium from wastewater produced by oil and gas production.

The technologies were developed through the Critical Materials Innovation Hub, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub led by Ames National Laboratory that is dedicated to accelerating scientific and technological solutions to ensure secure domestic supply chains for critical minerals and materials.

Lithium-ion batteries power electric vehicles, consumer electronics and defense technologies, as well as providing energy storage for the nation’s power grid. The worldwide lithium battery market is projected to grow by a factor of 5 to 10 in the next decade.

“It is critically important to the United States economy and national security that domestic sources for lithium — both raw and refined — are developed,” said ORNL’s Cynthia Jenks, associate laboratory director for the Physical Sciences Directorate.

Hood Whitson, chief executive officer of Element3, and Cynthia Jenks, associate laboratory director for the Physical Sciences Directorate, shake hands during the Element3 licensing event at ORNL on May 3, 2024. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

As part of ORNL’s mission from DOE to advance clean energy technologies and secure the nation, ORNL conducts research that aims to ensure a stable domestic supply of critical materials for the electrification of transportation. Read more about ORNL’s lithium recovery research.

Seated, from left to right, are Bruce Moyer, ORNL corporate fellow; Hood Whitson, Element3 CEO; Cynthia Jenks, ORNL associate laboratory director for the Physical Sciences Directorate; and Wes Kowalczuk, an engineer with Element3. Standing, from left to right, are Parans Paranthaman, ORNL corporate fellow; Jayanthi Kumar, ORNL staff scientist; Reis Alsberry, ORNL commercialization manager; Jennifer Caldwell, ORNL director of technology transfer; Eugene Cochran, technology commercialization group leader; Syed Islam, ORNL staff scientist; and Mike Paulus, director of partnerships. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Parans Paranthaman, an ORNL Corporate Fellow, has spent many years investigating alternative sources of lithium, such as the waste brine generated by geothermal power plants and boron mine tailings.

“Less than 2% of our lithium comes from the U.S. and Canada, while the demand for lithium batteries for electric cars continues to grow,” he said. “To alleviate supply chain shortages, we need alternative sources of lithium.”

The technologies licensed to Element3 include membrane extraction techniques and new separation methods. The team of inventors behind the technologies includes ORNL’s Ramesh Bhave, Syed Islam, Jayanthi Kumar, Bruce Moyer, Paranthaman and Ilja Popovs. Former ORNL scientists Vishwanath Deshmane, Nicholas Linneen, Mary Healy, Tej Lamichhane and Henry Musrock also contributed to the technologies.

“This collection spans the entire process for direct lithium extraction, and it will help bring a true solution to market,” said Hood Whitson, chief executive officer of Element3. “We were attracted to ORNL because Bruce and Parans are truly world leaders and foundational scientists in this area of expertise.”

Moyer led CMI’s focus area for diversifying supply through new sources and transformative processes. Paranthaman led CMI’s project on lithium extraction and conversion from brines and minerals.

Mike Paulus, ORNL Partnerships director, gives remarks during a licensing event for Element3 on May 3, 2024, at the laboratory. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office sponsored the research behind one of the inventions through the Critical Materials: Next-Generation Technologies and Field Validation funding opportunity in 2020.

Jennifer Caldwell negotiated the terms of the licensing agreement. For more information about available technologies for licensing, visit ORNL’s Technology Transfer website.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.

Courtesy of ORNL.

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