Environmental science & technology

An Electrochemical Cell for Selective Lithium Capture from Seawater.

PMID 25920476


Lithium (Li) is a core element of Li-ion batteries (LIBs). Recent developments in mobile electronics such as smartphones and tablet PCs as well as advent of large-scale LIB applications including electrical vehicles and grid-level energy storage systems have led to an increase in demand for LIBs, giving rise to a concern on the availability and market price of Li resources. However, the current Lime-Soda process that is responsible for greater than 80% of worldwide Li resource supply is applicable only in certain regions on earth where the Li concentrations are sufficiently high (salt lakes or salt pans). Moreover, not only is the process time-consuming (12-18 months), but post-treatments are also required for the purification of Li. Here, we have devised a location-independent electrochemical system for Li capture, which can operate within a short time period (a few hours to days). By engaging olivine LiFePO4 active electrode that improves interfacial properties via polydopamine coating, the electrochemical cell achieves 4330 times amplification in Li/Na ion selectivity (Li/Na molar ratio of initial solution = 0.01 and Li/Na molar ratio of final electrode = 43.3). In addition, the electrochemical system engages an I(-)/I3(-) redox couple in the other electrode for balancing of the redox states on both electrode sides and sustainable operations of the entire cell. Based on the electrochemical results, key material and interfacial properties that affect the selectivity in Li capture are identified.