Watercycle Technologies – a spin-out company from The University of Manchester that specialises in recovery of scarce minerals through filtration – has won a £500,000 Innovate UK Smart Grant, in partnership with Cornish Lithium, to test its ground-breaking direct lithium extraction (DLE) process in Cornwall.
Watercycle’s patented filtration process can selectively extract lithium from sub-surface waters, such as those found in the South West of the UK. Given lithium’s essential role in battery technologies, the ability to obtain it from water cost-effectively and establish a domestic supply of the mineral is vital for the UK’s Net Zero strategy.
Cornish Lithium is a mineral exploration and development company focused on the environmentally responsible extraction of lithium from geothermal waters and hard rock in the historic mining district of Cornwall.
Earlier this year, Watercycle Technologies became a Tier 2 Partner of the University’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, allowing for access to lab space, state-of-the-art equipment and engineering and academic expertise at the UK’s leading institute for R&D and commercialisation of applications around graphene and 2D materials.
The ‘Smart’ grant is Innovate UK’s responsive funding programme. It has focused eligibility criteria and scope to support SMEs and their partners to develop disruptive innovations with significant potential for rapid economic return to the UK.
Under the terms of the agreement, Watercycle will deliver a containerised filtration system to extract lithium from Cornish Lithium’s project in Cornwall at a pilot scale. The project, which includes an environmental impact assessment, is anticipated to complete in October 2023.
Watercycle CEO Dr Seb Leaper said: “Having already proven that our proprietary filtration membranes and systems work in lab conditions, we are excited to be working with Cornish Lithium to demonstrate their scalability and accelerate the creation of a resilient, domestic lithium supply chain in the UK.
“This agreement marks the next step in our development strategy as we look at the commercialisation of our technology, which is capable of treating a wide range of water types and can deliver dramatic reductions in costs, carbon emissions and water consumption compared with current processes.”
Watercycle co-founder and CTO Dr Ahmed Abdelkarim added: “It is great to be working with like-minded partners, Cornish Lithium and Innovate UK, which, like us, are focused on making a positive impact on the global transition through advancing innovative technologies.
“Lithium is a critical element with EV demand set to grow 418% from 468 GWh this year to 2.4 TWh by 2030 and we are delighted to be part of that chain, offering a British solution to the challenge of primary lithium production, which is the first link within the wider EV supply chain.”
Dr Rebecca Paisley, Lead Geochemist at Cornish Lithium, said: “Cornish Lithium is keen to support projects from UK-based universities and the companies commercialising them, which we believe have the potential to be both game-changing and contribute to the UK’s Net Zero strategy.
“Working with Watercycle in the development of a pilot system aligns strongly with our Research and Innovation strategy, as well as our continued efforts to trial multiple DLE technologies at pilot scale in Cornwall to establish the most effective and responsible process flow sheet. We have a good relationship with the Watercycle team and look forward to progressing the project over the next 12 months.”