Massive Lithium Deposit Found Underneath Ancient Supervolcano
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Here are 10 recent discoveries:
1. Massive Lithium Deposit Found Underneath Ancient Supervolcano
The planet's largest-known lithium deposit may have been discovered beneath an ancient supervolcano along the Nevada-Oregon border.
Estimated at 20 to 40 million metric tons, this lithium deposit is hidden within the sediments of the McDermitt caldera, formed by a volcano that erupted and collapsed in on itself.
If confirmed, this deposit could surpass Bolivia's salt flats as the world's largest source of lithium.
The discovery has significant implications for global lithium dynamics, affecting price, supply security, and geopolitics.
Volcanologists and geologists from the Lithium Americas Corporation propose that the deposit resulted from a massive eruption about 16.4 million years ago.
This event pushed lithium-rich minerals from deep underground to the surface, creating lithium-rich smectite clay.
Faults and fractures left behind by the eruption allowed lithium to seep upwards, transforming smectite into illite, a mineral sometimes used for lithium production.
The lithium-rich zone is primarily found in the southern half of the caldera around Thacker Pass and in the Montana Mountains to the north.
This discovery could lead to increased efforts to mine the area. However, there are concerns about the environmental and societal impacts of mining in the McDermitt Caldera.
Indigenous groups and environmentalists oppose plans for an open-pit lithium mine here, arguing it could industrialize and harm their ancestral lands.
The increasing demand for lithium, a vital component of rechargeable batteries, poses both opportunities and challenges for the region and the world's transition to renewable energy.
2. China's CATL Begins Mass Production of Sodium-Ion Batteries
China's CATL is set to mass-produce first-generation sodium-ion batteries, starting next month, with a factory capable of producing around 40 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of batteries per year.
Sodium-ion batteries are seen as a potential game-changer in the battery industry.
CATL's first-generation sodium-ion batteries have an energy density of 160-watt-hours per kilogram, which is slightly lower than iron LFP batteries and significantly less than mass-produced nickel batteries.
However, CATL plans to increase the energy density of the next generation of sodium-ion batteries to 200 Wh/kg.
These sodium-ion batteries will be used by China's Chery, which will be the first automaker to adopt this technology.
The first-generation sodium-ion batteries are somewhat cheaper than LFP batteries, but the real transformation is expected with the second generation, which could reach $40 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
In comparison, iron LFP batteries might achieve $50/kWh with high volume and efficiency.
What's particularly promising about sodium-ion batteries is that they don't face practical material limits.
The United States holds a vast reserve of soda ash, a key ingredient in these batteries.
Wyoming alone has 47 billion tons of mineable soda ash in the Green River basin, which could lead to massive power storage potential.
Based on material costs of $4 per kWh, sodium-ion batteries could become incredibly affordable, at $8 to $10 per kWh in the future, making them ten times cheaper than current energy storage batteries.
3. Innovative 'Minus' Approach for Cleaner Drinking Water
While tap water is generally safe to drink, it may not be entirely clean due to the presence of disinfection byproducts and unknown contaminants from the use of chlorine in water treatment.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have introduced a novel "minus approach" to address this issue.
Unlike traditional water treatment methods that rely on adding chemicals (the "plus approach"), the minus approach avoids the use of disinfectants and chemical coagulants.
Instead, it employs a combination of filtration techniques to eliminate byproducts and harmful microorganisms.
This approach allows water treatment plants to use ultraviolet light and smaller amounts of chemical disinfectants, reducing bacterial growth in the water distribution system.
This innovative approach can be readily adopted as its technologies are proven and available.
Moreover, it can be enhanced by integrating artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize filtration processes, predict maintenance needs, detect faults, and improve energy efficiency.
By reducing reliance on chemical treatments, the minus approach aims to provide a safer and more environmentally friendly solution for clean drinking water, benefiting both humans and the environment.
4. A Cleaner and Cheaper Energy Storage Solution with Zinc-Ion Batteries
One of the main reasons behind climate change is the way we produce electricity, which often relies on fossil fuels.
While we've started using more wind and solar power, we still need a way to store that energy for when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing.
Lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used, have some problems. They can be expensive, risk fire and explosion, and aren't easy to recycle.
But there's hope in a new kind of battery called a zinc-ion battery. These batteries have many advantages over lithium-ion ones.
They use cheaper materials like zinc and manganese, making them more affordable to produce. Plus, they're much safer and can be recycled easily.
For countries like Canada to reach their clean energy goals, they need batteries that are both cheap and safe. Zinc-ion batteries could be the answer.
They are not only less expensive but also use materials that are abundant and don't have supply chain problems like lithium and cobalt.
They're also safer and easier to recycle, making them a promising solution for storing renewable energy.
Canada is looking into these batteries to help achieve its goal of using 90% renewable energy by 2030, and this technology could revolutionize the global battery market.
5. Breaking Down Plastic Pollution with Genetically Engineered Microorganisms
Researchers have developed a genetically modified marine microorganism capable of breaking down a common plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a major contributor to microplastic pollution in oceans.
The scientists worked with two types of bacteria: Vibrio natriegens, which thrives in saltwater and reproduces rapidly, and Ideonella sakaiensis, which produces enzymes to break down PET.
They took the genetic material responsible for PET degradation in I. sakaiensis and inserted it into a plasmid, a genetic sequence that can replicate independently in a cell.
By introducing this plasmid into V. natriegens, they prompted V. natriegens to produce the PET-degrading enzymes on the surface of its cells.
This genetically engineered organism successfully broke down PET in saltwater at room temperature, a significant achievement.
The researchers aim to directly incorporate the DNA from I. sakaiensis into the genome of V. natriegens for more stable enzyme production.
They also want to modify V. natriegens to feed on the byproducts generated during PET breakdown.
Additionally, they plan to engineer V. natriegens to produce valuable end products from PET.
This development offers hope in the fight against plastic pollution in marine environments, with the potential for more sustainable and efficient plastic degradation.
6. Understanding Heterogeneous Reactions from X-ray Videos
Researchers have achieved a groundbreaking feat by using in situ scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) to learn the physics of heterogeneous reaction kinetics in carbon-coated lithium iron phosphate (LFP) nanoparticles.
This development is crucial for understanding and engineering various chemical systems, including batteries and electrocatalysts.
The team combined a vast dataset of STXM images with a thermodynamically consistent electrochemical phase-field model, employing partial differential equation (PDE)-constrained optimization and uncertainty quantification.
They successfully extracted the free-energy landscape and reaction kinetics, verified their consistency with theoretical models, and revealed the spatial heterogeneity of the reaction rate.
This work opens new possibilities for understanding and optimizing chemically reactive systems and interfacial engineering in fields such as energy materials and biology.
The pixel-by-pixel image inversion technique offers a data-driven and physics-informed approach to learning constitutive laws and exploring non-destructive imaging in diverse scientific domains.
7. Graphene Batteries Could Transform Electric Vehicles
Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, is emerging as a game-changer in the electric vehicle (EV) industry.
Graphene, a million times thinner than a human hair, promises to revolutionize EVs by addressing key challenges.
Graphene dissipates heat efficiently during charge/discharge, reducing the risk of overheating and fires in EV batteries.
It could enable EVs to charge in minutes, enhancing energy efficiency compared to hours with conventional lithium-ion batteries.
Graphene is incredibly light, reducing the overall weight of EVs and improving energy consumption.
While challenges like scalability and cost-effectiveness remain, researchers are optimistic about graphene's future in EVs.
Nobel laureate Konstantin Novoselov envisions applications beyond EVs, including bendable smartphones and lightweight aircraft.
8. Lithium Recovery and Recycling from Used Batteries
Chinese researchers have introduced a groundbreaking method for recovering and recycling lithium from used Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs).
As the demand for LIBs increases due to portable devices and electric vehicles, the need for sustainable recycling is critical.
Traditionally, recycling lithium from LIBs has been complicated and costly, primarily focusing on cathodes.
Extracting lithium from anodes (which contain graphite) is more efficient, but it involves safety risks due to the reactivity of graphite with water.
The new approach by a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences uses aprotic organic solutions instead of water to recover lithium from anodes.
Aprotic solutions don't release hydrogen ions, eliminating the risk of hydrogen gas formation and associated safety hazards.
Their solution, consisting of a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and an ether solvent, efficiently extracts lithium from anodes under mild conditions.
The resulting lithium-PAH solutions can be directly used as reagents, making the process more versatile.
This innovative and cost-effective method has the potential to revolutionize lithium recycling, addressing safety concerns and contributing to sustainable battery recycling.
9. Removing Microplastics from Water with Fungi
A study led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research suggests a novel biological approach to remove tiny and potentially harmful microplastic particles from water.
These particles, smaller than a micron, have raised environmental concerns due to their potential harm to ecosystems and human health.
The research explores the use of fungi, specifically white rot fungi strains, to address this issue.
Microplastics originate from the breakdown of larger plastics and commercial products.
They can easily travel long distances in the environment, even infiltrating plant cells and human placenta.
Traditional wastewater treatment plants can remove many microplastics, but submicrometer particles often remain.
The study tested three fungal strains for their ability to remove microplastics, particularly polystyrene and polymethyl methacrylate.
The fungi proved efficient at removing and assimilating microplastics by attaching them to their biomass, making them easier to remove from water.
This innovative approach has the potential to reduce microplastic pollution in natural water bodies and enhance wastewater treatment processes.
Fungi-based solutions offer promise not only for addressing microplastics but also for remediating other environmental contaminants, such as "forever chemicals" (PFAS), further contributing to sustainability and ecosystem health.
10. Nontoxic and Bio-Based Glue with Strength of Epoxy Adhesives
A team of chemists at Purdue University, led by Professor Jonathan Wilker, has developed a sustainable adhesive system as an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based glues.
Traditional adhesives pose environmental and health hazards, often containing toxic petrochemicals that contribute to pollution.
The team aimed to create adhesives that are bio-based, nontoxic, strong, affordable, and scalable.
Their adhesive formula incorporates epoxidized soy oil, malic acid, and tannic acid.
This combination resulted in an adhesive that is both effective and sustainable. It can match the strength of traditional toxic adhesives like epoxy.
The team tested the adhesive on various materials and found it performed well, often on par with or surpassing traditional options.
This sustainable adhesive could have applications in fields such as medicine, industrial materials, and packaging.
The researchers' goal is to offer a greener alternative to the adhesives that hold much of modern society together while addressing environmental and health concerns associated with current products.
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