KAUST spinout will extract lithium from seawater

A new venture between King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Saudi mining company Ma’aden will use seawater as a source of lithium.

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Lihytech uses patented ceramic membrane-based lithium extraction technology, developed by KAUST’s Professor Zhiping Lai, to harvest the alkali metal from seawater, brine, red mud and other sources. Seawater contains 230 billion tons of lithium, compared to just 21 million tons in conventional land-based reserves. Lihytech estimates that extracting just 0.1 per cent of all lithium from seawater would be enough to meet humanity’s technology needs.

“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.”

KAUST, Ma’aden and Lihytech sign the new partnership agreement - KAUST

KAUST Innovation Ventures and Ma’aden have collectively invested $6m into the new company. Lihytech says it will use the capital to build a pilot facility to extract lithium from the Red Sea and other resources in Saudi Arabia. It is hoped that the technology can help secure the country’s upstream flow of raw materials that are critical for the development of EVs and personal electronics devices.

"We are pleased to partner with KAUST Innovation Ventures to invest in the deployment of this groundbreaking technology,” said Saud Al-Mandil, vice president for Technology and R&D at Ma’aden.

“This technology has the potential to revolutionise 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.”

The startup was funded through the KAUST Near Term Grand Challenge and the technology is being developed on the campus. Ma’aden is leading the investment with $4 million, with KAUST Innovation Ventures investing the remaining $2m.