The insatiable global demand for lithium, driven by its indispensable role in the battery industry and other advanced energy applications, has spurred innovative methods to harvest this valuable metal from brine resources more sustainably and efficiently. At the forefront of these advancements are lithium ion-sieves (LISs), which have demonstrated exceptional capabilities in selectively recovering lithium from complex aqueous environments containing various coexisting ions.

A groundbreaking study led by Dr. Zhijie Chen and Professor Bing-Jie Ni from The University of New South Wales, presents a comprehensive review of the current state and future prospects of LIS technology. Their findings, recently published in the journal Sustainable Horizons, delve into the potential of heteroatom-doped LISs to revolutionize lithium recovery processes, making them not only more efficient but also environmentally friendly.

“The escalating demand for lithium in fields ranging from electronic products to electric vehicles necessitates a shift towards more sustainable and economically viable recovery methods,” stated Dr. Zhijie Chen. He emphasized the superiority of LISs over conventional methods due to their high selectivity and capacity for lithium uptake, crucial traits that significantly enhance the purity and yield of lithium extracted from brines.

The study reviews the two primary categories of LISs—lithium manganese oxides (LMO) and lithium titanium oxides (LTO). Each type brings unique advantages and challenges to lithium recovery. LMOs are praised for their high lithium affinity and excellent adsorption capacity. However, they face issues such as manganese dissolution, which can decrease their efficacy and pose environmental risks. On the other hand, LTOs are known for their structural stability, which prevents titanium dissolution but their application is limited by particle aggregation during synthesis.

To address these challenges, the researchers have turned to heteroatom doping—an innovative approach that enhances the performance of LISs. By integrating different heteroatoms into the LIS structure, they can improve the material’s stability, durability, and lithium recovery efficiency. “Heteroatom doping not only helps in stabilizing the ion-sieve structure but also enhances its selectivity and recyclability, which are critical for practical applications,” explained Professor Bing-Jie Ni.

The application of advanced LISs in lithium recovery is particularly promising for processing brines from salt lakes, which are abundant but underutilized resources due to the presence of interfering ions such as magnesium and calcium. The refined LISs effectively overcome these interferences, paving the way for their application in diverse environments ranging from geothermal brines to industrial effluents.

The implications of this research extend beyond just technical advancements. By improving the efficiency and environmental sustainability of lithium recovery, these innovations could significantly reduce the ecological footprint of lithium mining and processing, contributing to the global efforts in combating climate change and resource depletion.

As the world leans more towards renewable energy sources and sustainable practices, the development and implementation of such cutting-edge technologies in lithium recovery will be crucial. The ongoing research by Dr. Zhijie Chen, Professor Bing-Jie Ni, and their colleagues not only highlights the potential of lithium ion-sieves in meeting the world’s growing lithium demands but also sets a benchmark for future studies aiming to refine these technologies further.

Journal Reference

Qian Chen, Zhijie Chen, Hongqiang Li, Bing-Jie Ni, Advanced lithium ion-sieves for sustainable lithium recovery from brines, Sustainable Horizons, 2024. DOI:

About the Authors

Dr. Zhijie Chen received his Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia in 2022. He now works as a Postdoc researcher at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. His research mainly focuses on the development of green technology for achieving environmental and energy sustainability. He has authored over 100 peer-reviewed papers in prestigious journals (e.g., Nano-Micro Letters, Applied Catalysis B, SusMat, Green Chemistry, Nano Energy, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Water Research) and 2 book chapters within the fields of natural resource utilization, waste valorization, green chemistry, wastewater treatment, and green energy, and his work has been featured in global tech media.

Prof. Bing-Jie Ni received his Ph.D. degree in environmental engineering in June 2009. He currently is a full professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Clarivate Global Highly Cited Researcher. He has been working in the field of environmental technology and wastewater treatment, particularly the interface among process engineering, microbial biotechnology, materials science and mathematical modelling, focusing on the integration of these disciplines to develop innovative and sustainable technological solutions to achieve high-level pollutant removal from wastewater with a minimized carbon footprint and maximized energy recovery, to transform wastes or wastewater from a troublesome pollutant to a valuable resource and save large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions.