Wastewater from Fracking Found to Contain Huge Source of Lithium

As the world continues to try and transition away from fossil fuels, the need for materials to build batteries grows ever stronger. The most common type of batteries in used in high power application these days are lithium-ion batteries, so naturally new sources of lithium are being sought out by government and industry.

A new report from the University of Pittsburgh explains that new research shows that very large deposits of lithium can be found in wastewater from gas wells in the Marcellus shale area of the eastern United States where fracking techniques are used to increase hydrocarbon production.


Initial estimates are that if lithium can be extracted efficiently from wastewater, it could supply 40 per cent of US lithium demand.

From the report:

There are lithium mining operations in the U.S., but Mackey said. “This is different. This is a waste stream, and we’re looking at a beneficial use of that waste.”

Finding lithium in the wastewater in Marcellus shale wasn’t a surprise: Researchers had analyzed the water recycled in hydraulic fracking and knew that it picked up minerals and elements from the shale. “But there hadn’t been enough measurements to quantify the resource,” Mackey said. We just didn’t know how much was in there.

Extracting lithium from already existing wastewater would mean the element could likely be obtained more quickly and inexpensively than starting brand new mining operations.

Even though this could be seen as a fortuitous discovery, I would expect it could prove to be controversial. Lithium is highly desirable these days, and many will see this as possible way to cleaner energy. Howerver, fracking is considered by many with environmental concerns to be an environmentally destructive practice which needs to be curtailed, even if a lithium bounty results.