The Asia Miner

JUN 2018

The ASIA Miner - Reporting Important Issues to Mining Companies in the Asia Pacific Region

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the asia miner • volume 15 • issue 2 5 LEADING DEVELOPMENTS: Water Management With two billion people worldwide lacking access to clean and safe drinking water, joint research by Australia's Monash University, Commonwealth ScienƟfic and Industrial Research OrganisaƟon (CSIRO) and The University of Texas at AusƟn published in Sciences Advances may offe a breakthrough new soluƟon. It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generaƟon material that has the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor HuanƟng Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboraƟon with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKeƩa Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at AusƟn, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering funcƟon, or 'ion selecƟvity', of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potenƟal to perform the dual funcƟons of removing salts from seawater and separaƟng metal ions in a highly efficient and cost-effecƟve manner, offering a revoluƟonary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalinaƟon capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumpƟon. They do not operate on the principles of dehydraƟon of ions, or selecƟve ion transport in biological channels, the subject of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Roderick MacKinnon and Peter Agre, and therefore have significant limitaƟons. In the mining industry, membrane processes are being developed to reduce water polluƟon, as well as for recovering valuable metals. For example, lithium-ion baƩeries are now the most popular power source for mobile electronic devices, however at current rates of consumpƟon, there is rising demand likely to require lithium producƟon from non-tradiƟonal sources, such as recovery from salt water and waste process streams. If economically and technologically feasible, direct extracƟon and purificaƟon of lithium from such a complex liquid system would have profound economic impacts. These innovaƟons are now possible thanks to this new research. Monash University's Professor HuanƟng Wang Researchers discover efficient way to filter salt and metal ions from water Water Management New research demonstrates a way towards efficient and economically sustainable filtraƟon of salt and metal ions from water said, "We can use our findings to address the challenges of water desalinaƟon. Instead of relying on the current costly and energy intensive processes, this research opens up the potenƟal for removing salt ions from water in a far more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable way." "Also, this is just the start of the potenƟal for this phenomenon. We'll conƟnue researching how the lithium ion selecƟvity of these membranes can be further applied. Lithium ions are abundant in seawater, so this has implicaƟons for the mining industry who currently use inefficient chemical treatments to extract lithium from rocks and brines. Global demand for lithium required for electronics and baƩeries is very high. These membranes offer the potenƟal for a very effecƟve way to extract lithium ions from seawater, a plenƟful and easily accessible resource." Building on the growing scienƟfic understanding of MOFs, CSIRO's Dr Anita Hill said the research offers another potenƟal real-world use for the next-generaƟon material. "The prospect of using MOFs for sustainable water filtraƟon is incredibly exciƟng from a public good perspecƟve, while delivering a beƩer way of extracƟng lithium ions to meet global demand could create new industries for Australia," Dr Hill said. The University of Texas in AusƟn Professor Benny Freeman says, "Produced water from shale gas fields in Texas is rich in lithium. Advanced separaƟon materials concepts, such as this, could potenƟally turn this waste stream into a resource recovery opportunity. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these disƟnguished colleagues from Monash and CSIRO via the Australian- American Fulbright Commission for the U.S. Fulbright DisƟnguished Chair in Science, Technology and InnovaƟon sponsored by the Commonwealth ScienƟfic and Industrial Research OrganizaƟon (CSIRO)."

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