Seven ORNL Inventions Licensed to Texas-Based Lithium Recovery Firm

Element3 has developed a patent-pending process to extract lithium chloride from oil and gas wastewater in the Permian Basin, achieving over 85% lithium recovery without pre-concentration. This breakthrough supports sustainable resource utilization and reduces dependency on foreign lithium supplies.

Seven ORNL Inventions Licensed to Texas-based Lithium Recovery Firm

May 7, 2024

A collection of seven technologies for lithium recovery developed by scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) 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.

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)

“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.

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.

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, Katie Johnson, Jayanthi Kumar, Bruce Moyer, Parans Paranthaman, and Ilja Popovs. Former ORNL scientists Vishwanath Deshmane, Nicholas Linneen, Mary Healy, Tej Lamichhane, and Henry Musrock also contributed to the technologies.

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)

“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.

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.

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