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Mineral Metals from Seawater

June 2021 | innovation

Wind energy

If everything goes according to plan, seawater will soon be the third largest source of mineral metals within the EU – after traditional mining and recycling. Since mid-2020, the EU-funded Sea4Value project has been researching new technologies to extract substances such as gallium and indium from the brine of sea desalination plants. In other words, a previous waste product of water extraction is to become precious raw materials.

At the launch of Sea4Value, a consortium of 15 research institutions and companies from seven European countries, project coordinator Nuria García Fernandez explained: “Now the output of seawater desalination plants is 50 percent water and 50 percent brine.” Fernandez comes from the Spanish technology center Eurecat, one of the partners of the consortium. In the future, according to the researcher, seawater desalination plants will produce up to 80 percent water and raw materials such as magnesium, scandium, vanadium, gallium, indium, boron and other minerals and metals will be recovered from the rest. These are all raw materials that are increasingly needed, for example, for the production of smartphones, photovoltaics, LEDs, lasers and semiconductor technologies and are increasingly in demand by numerous EU industries.

Xavier Martinez, Director of the Water, Air and Earth Division at Eurecat, therefore makes it clear in a statement: “Sustainable access to critical raw materials is fundamental for the economy. This means ensuring their present and future availability is also essential for the European Union”.

How exactly Sea4Value works can be read in the EU Recycling Magazine. According to it, the project developed a special adsorption process for which special modules are produced using 3D printing.The modules attract the metals like a magnet. As an alternative to this adsorption process, the use of filters with nanofine pores in which the metals get stuck is being tested,” writes the magazine.

The procedure will initially be tested in two existing desalination plants – in Fonsalia on the Canary Island of Tenerife and in Denia on the Spanish mainland. The potential is enormous: there are currently around 16,000 seawater desalination plants worldwide. Sandra Casas, water expert at Eurecat says: “The number of desalination plants are increasing because it’s an easy way of producing drinking water for people near coasts, where 40% of the population of Europe lives.” This could give the circular economy “a huge amount of minerals to recover”.

A free info flyer from Sea4Value is available for download.

Drilling rig

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