A Manchester University spin-off has signed a deal with an Italian mining company aimed at making lithium in commercial quantities.

Watercycle Technologies, a deep tech company focused on furthering high-yield, low-cost, mineral extraction, is pledging its unique technology to magic the battery industry’s most valuable metal from a shaft of super-heated salty water beneath Lazio, near Rome.

Its partner is Energia Minerals (Italia), a subsidiary of quoted Altamin, owner of mines in central Italy. Using the British firm’s propriatory DLEC approach – Direct Lithium Extraction & Crystallisation – , the duo will extract samples from a borehole in Lazio.  In October Altamin won two exploration licences for lithium from the region’s government.

Subsurface strata running from Rome north into Tuscany provide Italy’s bedrock for geothermal brines. Temperatures up to and beyond 200 degrees Centrigrade run at least four geothermal power stations.

With its UK partner Cornish Lithium, Watercycle are already piloting extraction of the valuable metal from brine-filled caves and aquifers under the West Country.

DLEC’s compatibility with a wide range of water salinities delivers, or so Watercycle claims – dramatic reductions in costs, carbon emissions and water consumption compared with current processes

Baggy, chemical, and happy on Mondays

Under the deal Watercycle will test brines extracted from a borehole in central Italy.  Once the waters’ specific chemistry is understood, dedicated membranes will be fabricated by the team.  Watercycle will then pass the brine through its DLEC process, and analyse both the resulting lithium-rich extraction and the lithium-purged residue.

Watercycle will then process the lithium-rich solution to produce lithium carbonate salts. This latter stage it presents as a key differentiator compared to standard extraction practices.

If successful, the two parties will examine the potential for initiating large-scale testing in Italy.

“Each brine has different characteristics”, explained Watercycle CEO Dr Seb Leaper.

“It’s part of our development model to test multiple brines to further prove the efficacy of our technology and provide leading edge, sustainable solutions for lithium and critical mineral extraction from them.

Watercycle’s CTO and co-founder Dr Ahmed Abdelkarim added: ““Our technology has taken years of development both within the University of Manchester and now within Watercycle.

“We are not only successfully partnering with lithium brine developers but also making fantastic headway in the extraction of multiple critical minerals including cobalt and graphite from spent batteries and the utilisation of our processes in desalination, critical in today’s world where water shortages are being becoming more pronounced.

In materials science, Manchester University, home to Alan Turing and early computing, has more recently been world-renowned for graphene. The super-strong lightweight material won the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics for its developers Professors Andre Geim & Kostya Novoselov.

Watercycle’s labs are in the university’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre.

Interest declared: the author was educated partly at Manchester University.


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