Researchers at Australia’s CSIRO and Monash University and at the University of Texas at Austin have found a material which filter salt and ions out of sea water not only yielding safe drinking water but also recovering valuable metals such as lithium.

The filter is made from a metal-organic framework which has the largest internal surface area of any known substance. Its sponge-like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water.

Monash University’s Professor Huanting Wang said, “We can use our findings to address the challenges of water desalination. Instead of relying on the current costly and energy intensive processes, this research opens up the potential for removing salt ions from water in a far more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable way.”

“Also, this is just the start of the potential for this phenomenon. We’ll continue researching how the lithium ion selectivity of these membranes can be further applied. Lithium ions are abundant in seawater, so this has implications for the mining industry who current use inefficient chemical treatments to extract lithium from rocks and brines. Global demand for lithium required for electronics and batteries is very high. These membranes offer the potential for a very effective way to extract lithium ions from seawater, a plentiful and easily accessible resource.”