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A SOLUTIONS article on the recent Andlinger Meeting

By Huck Fairman

The most recent Andlinger Center Meeting on clean energy brought together academic and industry specialists to explore and discuss the role of geopolitics and global supply chains
in the efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions. The Center called for research proposals connecting clean energy and the environment.

Traditionally, scientists, planners and policymakers target one category of infrastructure at a time for improvements. But a new study by researchers at Princeton University and Tsinghua University in China demonstrates that pairing industrial processes can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater usage while also cutting operating costs.

“Detailed implementation plans for specific regions can be developed using our high-resolution results,” said an associate research scholar at the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. “Local governments can formulate tailored strategies based on our findings to balance environmental benefits with cost effectiveness and technical feasibility.”

A team of Princeton University researchers has developed a new, sustainable way to extract lithium, a mineral in skyrocketing demand due to its range of applications. The team, called PureLi, is exploring starting a company to bring their technology to the world.

Renewable electricity is on track to replace fossil fuels in some sectors, but the supply of lithium for batteries and electric vehicles falls short of meeting its rapidly increasing demand.

“Previously, lithium-ion batteries were used in cell phones and electronics,” said a distinguished postdoctoral fellow at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and member of the research team. “But to power an electrical vehicle requires more lithium than is found in thousands of iPhones.”

The new technology uses solar power to extract lithium from brine, water with high salt concentrations, where the majority of lithium on Earth is found. The system has demonstrated an improvement of more than ten times the standard rate of extraction from brine. The approach is particularly advantageous for use in the U.S., which currently mines and processes less than 1% of the global lithium supply, yet is the largest consumer of the mineral. Because of this disparity, securing domestic sources of lithium has become a priority for national security.

The team recently participated in the Princeton Startup Bootcamp, as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Northeast Hub’s four-week customer discovery program, led by Princeton. In both activities, the team learned skills to help take their innovation from a laboratory-stage discovery to a mature technology that can benefit the planet. Using more aware concepts of entrepreneurship, the team gained the knowledge to take a small company and its ideas to global markets.

The PureLi team hopes their development will contribute to securing the supply of critical minerals and advancing the nation’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

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