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High-purity electrolytic lithium obtained from low-purity sources using solid electrolyte

Abstract

Lithium (Li) is an important resource for the sustainability of socioeconomic systems given its wide use in various industrial applications. The industrial production of Li metals relies on the electrolysis of a mixture consisting of high-purity lithium chloride (LiCl) and potassium chloride. However, the purification of LiCl is expensive and unsustainable, requiring a substantial amount of energy and the use of noxious chemical reagents, so that producing high-purity Li efficiently and sustainably is a challenge. Herein we report a new method of producing high-purity electrolytic Li from low-purity LiCl using solid-state electrolyte. Taking advantage of the high Li-ion selectivity of the solid electrolyte, we directly obtained high-purity metallic Li through the electrolysis of low-purity LiCl. Our new method provides two important advantages over conventional methods: (1) the cost of producing high-purity Li is reduced by using low-purity LiCl from low-grade brine, and the simpler purification process reduces the use of energy and chemical reagents; and (2) the operating temperature of the electrolytic process decreases from 400 °C to 240 °C, leading to an additional reduction in energy use.

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Fig. 1: A comparison between the traditional electrolytic device and our new electrolytic device.
Fig. 2: The production of electrolytic Li.
Fig. 3: Li extraction from molten salt with a low Li ion concentration.
Fig. 4: The production of electrolytic Li with a low cost.

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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Basic Science Center Program of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) under grant no. 51788104 and NSFC projects under grant no. 51661135025. Y.J. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundations of China under grant no. 51807180. Y.L. acknowledges support from the Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program.

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J.L., H.W. and Y.C. conceived the idea, planned the study, designed the experiment, analysed the data and composed the manuscript. J.L. and Y.J. performed all of the experiments with the assistance of K.L., Y.L., H.Z. and L.Q. H.W. supervised the project. All of the authors reviewed and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hui Wu or Yi Cui.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1–3.

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Lang, J., Jin, Y., Liu, K. et al. High-purity electrolytic lithium obtained from low-purity sources using solid electrolyte. Nat Sustain 3, 386–390 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0485-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0485-x

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