KAUST startup Lihytech raises $6 million to extract lithium from seawater
Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, 2nd February 2023 / Sciad Newswire / Saudi Arabian mining company, Ma’aden, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Innovation Ventures fund invest $6 million USD collectively into Lithium Infinity (Lihytech), a startup who have developed an economically feasible way to extract lithium from seawater.
With accelerated adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide and widespread use of lithium batteries in electronic devices, lithium demand is outstripping supply and global shortages are predicted by 2025*. Seawater contains 230 billion tons of lithium, compared to 21 million tons in conventional land-based reserves. Lihytech estimate even extracting 0.1% lithium from seawater will meet technology needs.
Their patented membrane-based lithium extraction technology, developed by Professor Zhiping Lai at KAUST, extracts the alkali metal from seawater, brine, red mud and more, and uses a ceramic membrane to filter lithium ions selectively.
The KAUST startup’s battery-grade lithium will help drive the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to developing an entire value chain of EVs. Lihytech will use the infusion of capital to build a pilot facility to extract lithium from the Red Sea and other in-Kingdom resources.
“This technology has the potential to be a game-changer,” said Kevin Cullen, vice president of KAUST Innovation. “Professor Zhiping and his team have found a way to make lithium extraction both technically and economically feasible. We are very pleased that Ma’aden will be joining KAUST Innovation Ventures in moving this technology forward and bringing it to market.”
Lihytech’s extraction technology will become a significant addition in the Kingdom’s capability in the mining and securing of upstream raw materials that are critical for the development of the EVs and exchangeable battery systems (EBSs) ecosystem.
Saud Al-Mandil, vice president for Technology and R&D at Ma’aden, commented: “We are pleased to partner with KAUST Innovation Ventures to invest in the deployment of this groundbreaking technology. This technology has the potential to revolutionize lithium extraction through unconventional resources and will certainly support the development of an electric vehicle value chain in the Kingdom. Investments in developing such technologies are important to our wider plans of securing the critical minerals needed for the energy transition and to fuel the development of relevant industries in the Kingdom.”
Lithium is often called the new “white gold” because its batteries power EVs, smart phones, personal electronic devices and more. It is estimated that Tesla, alone, will deplete the world’s lithium reserve in less than 30 years. Additionally, conventional lithium extraction is energy intensive, complex and lengthy, which results in heavy pollution.
Ma’aden is leading the investment with $4 million and KAUST Innovation Ventures is investing $2 million. The University’s venture capital arm, KAUST Innovation Ventures, supports deep tech startups that look to offer solutions to pressing scientific and technological challenges, such as lithium extraction.
The startup was funded through the KAUST Near Term Grand Challenge, a research translation program, and the technology is being developed on the campus.
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Notes to Editors
*International Energy Agency (IEA) Data: https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions
Established in 2009, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a graduate research university devoted to finding solutions for some of the most pressing scientific and technological challenges in the world, as well as Saudi Arabia, in the areas of food and health, water, energy, environment and the digital domain. KAUST is a curiosity-driven, interdisciplinary problem-solving environment, with state-of-the-art labs, distinguished faculty and talented students.
KAUST brings together the best minds from around the world to advance research. More than 120 different nationalities live, work and study on campus. KAUST is also a catalyst for innovation, economic development and social prosperity, with research resulting in novel patents and products, enterprising startups, regional and global initiatives, and collaboration with other academic institutions, industries and Saudi agencies.
For additional information, visit www.kaust.edu.sa.
About Ma’aden, The Saudi Arabian Mining Company
Ma’aden is the largest multi-commodity mining and metals company in the Middle East and among the fastest-growing mining companies in the world, with revenues of SAR 26.7 billion ($7.12 billion) in 2021. The company is developing the mining industry into the third pillar of the Saudi economy in line with Vision 2030 and aiming to be a role model in responsible and sustainable operations.
Ma’aden operates 17 mines and sites, has 6,000+ direct employees and exports products to over 30 countries. It is embarking on massive growth over the next 18 years across its phosphate, aluminum, gold, copper and precious minerals to leverage the Kingdom’s estimated $1.3 trillion mineral endowment.
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