Salinity Solutions and Cornish Lithium test the desalination system in the field

Salinity Solutions, a new spin-off from the University of Birmingham in the UK, begins field testing in industry a compact, energy-efficient desalination system designed to concentrate salts in groundwater to extract a brine rich in minerals.

Eco-tech company Cornish Lithium has partnered with Salinity Solutions for the field testing and has made agreements with the owners of mineral rights over much of Cornwall County for the testing.

Salinity Solutions plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign later this month to fund the first field trial at Cornish Lithium’s site in Redruth, Cornwall, by early 2022.

Global demand for lithium is growing rapidly as it is used in electric car batteries and static storage devices for electricity. Salinity Solutions noted that lithium is vital to the UK’s industrial strategy as it moves towards a zero-carbon future, but the country lacks an indigenous source of the mineral.

The technology of the Salinity Solutions desalination system is the result of more than 10 years of research by Philip Davies, professor of water technology at the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham. It was adapted from an established technique called batch reverse osmosis, which separates water from ions and molecules using a partially permeable membrane.

Professor Davies redesigned reverse osmosis to produce a system that approaches theoretical limits of energy efficiency and brine recovery, then built five prototypes in the University of Birmingham and University laboratories. from Aston.

The first application of the technology aims to reduce the high carbon footprint of lithium mining and help create a cleaner and more efficient way to meet the demand for electric vehicle batteries. Salinity Solutions said that the brine concentration technology has two significant advantages: it “achieves the maximum efficiency of any known available system” and is up to 50% more efficient than traditional reverse osmosis systems, with a 50 footprint. % smaller.

The company added, “It promises a new, cleaner, commercially viable solution that can be deployed even off the grid. “

The University of Birmingham initially patented the technology in 2018 and licensed it to the new spin-off company earlier this year. The technology will soon be tested in four field trials on three continents.

The first automated prototype was built by Tim Naughton, who is now CTO of Salinity Solutions. He approached engineering veteran Richard Bruges, who founded UK engineering, manufacturing and assembly organization The Proving Factory and venture capital engineering firm Clean Engineering.

Clean Engineering now supports Salinity Solutions, providing investment and a structured product development process. In addition, Bruges became director of Salinity Solutions.

Salinity Solutions is “quietly confident” that the unit it supplied to Cornish Lithium will pass the rigors of on-site testing at Redruth.

Naughton commented, “The unit we supply to Cornish Lithium was designed to withstand the elements. We simulated real conditions in the laboratory using feedwater supplied by Cornish Lithium, and the system reacts as expected and with the expected yields. by our algorithms. “

Dr Rebecca Paisley, Exploration Geochemist at Cornish Lithium, said: “We are actively collaborating with companies that develop innovative extraction technologies that are energy efficient, with a small footprint and capable of handling the unique geothermal waters found. in Cornwall. The technology under development by Salinity Solutions meets our criteria and we look forward to testing their pilot system at our geothermal water research site to potentially aid in the production of lithium salts. “

Davies was recently elected to the board of directors of the European Desalination Company. He continues his research on water purification and is currently working in Germany to develop a system that operates at higher pressure and provides more concentrated brine. Salinity Solutions obtained the intellectual property rights for the innovations resulting from this research.

It also has funding for further field trials in agriculture and industry, and working with commercial companies to assess the environmental costs and benefits that add to the reduction in consumption of energy compared to traditional reverse osmosis.

The University of Birmingham Enterprise helps its researchers turn their ideas into new services, products and businesses that meet real-world needs. Earlier this week, the Rare Earth Extraction from Audio Products (REAP) project, another university-backed project that aims to demonstrate a potential national source of recycled rare earths in the UK, was completed .

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