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Saudi-based Ma’aden’s lithium extraction from seawater could be a game changer for the region

Lithium is a vital ingredient in many clean energy technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles.

Saudi-based Ma’aden’s lithium extraction from seawater could be a game changer for the region
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

In recent decades, wind and solar power generation costs have dropped dramatically. This is one reason experts project that renewable energy will be the fastest-growing energy source through 2050.

However, storing energy is still relatively expensive since renewable energy generation isn’t always available. And there are emerging technologies that could help make this happen.

Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly used in wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles and have a major impact on the viability of renewable energy.

But one of the biggest obstacles is limited lithium supplies, which are currently essential for making lightweight, powerful batteries. According to some estimates, around 10% of the world’s lithium reserves will be depleted by 2050.

A World Bank study suggests that the demand for lithium is expected to rise by nearly 500% by 2050. While the global electric vehicle market is projected to reach $823.75 billion by 2030, Saudi Arabia is seeking to secure its critical mineral supplies and build self-sufficiency in this sector.

Now, Saudi Arabia’s flagship mining company, Ma’aden, is working to extract lithium from seawater. It’s a move that could position the country and the Middle East at the forefront of the global transition to a green economy as they seek to diversify their economies and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

“We are working on an initiative to extract lithium from seawater as well as some other things; I would say nothing is of scale; we are still at the pilot phase currently,” chief executive Robert Wilt told Reuters in an interview.

The company has secured a $6 million investment from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Innovation Ventures Fund. The technology developed by KAUST researchers uses a membrane-based process to extract lithium from seawater, and it is believed to be more efficient and cost-effective than existing methods.

With this investment, the technology will advance from the lab to a commercial pilot scale. Ma’aden is spearheading the investment with $4 million, followed by $2 million from KAUST Innovation Ventures

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