When we think of chemistry, we often picture the traditional image of colored liquids in beakers and flasks. However, at the Critical Materials Innovation (CMI) Hub, scientists are breaking away from this stereotype by utilizing mechanochemistry to transform the way chemical reactions are initiated. Mechanochemistry involves the use of mechanical forces to disrupt solids and induce chemical reactions. This innovative approach has led to the development of a groundbreaking process known as mechanochemical extraction of lithium at low temperatures (MELLT).

Lithium is a critical element in high-performance rechargeable batteries used in various technologies such as cell phones, medical devices, and electric vehicles. With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, the demand for lithium continues to rise. Traditionally, lithium is extracted from brines and hard-rock minerals, each requiring specific extraction methods. While brine extraction is cost-effective but time-consuming, hard-rock mineral extraction is energy-intensive and produces environmental hazards.

Both brine and hard-rock mineral extraction methods present their set of challenges. Brines require significant time for production, while hard-rock mineral extraction consumes large amounts of energy and produces toxic by-products. In an era where sustainability is paramount, these conventional methods fall short in meeting the growing demand for lithium. It is evident that a more efficient and environmentally friendly approach is necessary to overcome these limitations.

With the introduction of mechanochemistry, a more sustainable and efficient solution to lithium extraction has emerged. The MELLT process developed by Ihor Hlova’s team at the CMI Hub utilizes mechanochemical principles to streamline hard-rock mineral extraction. By subjecting solid spodumene chunks and reactant chemicals to repeated shear and impact stresses in a ball milling chamber, high-energy states are achieved within the materials, leading to rapid chemical reactions that result in water-soluble lithium compounds.

The development of MELLT not only revolutionizes the way lithium is extracted but also offers a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to chemical reactions. By reducing energy consumption and eliminating toxic waste streams, MELLT paves the way for a more efficient lithium supply chain in the United States. This innovative solution not only addresses the challenges of traditional extraction methods but also holds the potential to diversify lithium supply chains, reducing criticality and ensuring a sustainable future.

The utilization of mechanochemistry in lithium extraction represents a significant leap forward in the field of materials science. By harnessing mechanical forces to drive chemical reactions, scientists have been able to develop a more efficient and environmentally friendly method for extracting lithium. The MELLT process stands as a testament to the power of innovation and collaboration in addressing critical supply chain issues and shaping a sustainable future for our planet.


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