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Extracting Minerals from Seawater: An Energy Analysis

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  • Ugo Bardi

    () (Dipartimento di Chimica, Università di Firenze, Polo scientifico di Sesto Fiorentino, 50019 Sesto Fiorentino (Fi), Italy)

Abstract

The concept of recovering minerals from seawater has been proposed as a way of counteracting the gradual depletion of conventional mineral ores. Seawater contains large amounts of dissolved ions and the four most concentrated metal ones (Na, Mg, Ca, K) are being commercially extracted today. However, all the other metal ions exist at much lower concentrations. This paper reports an estimate of the feasibility of the extraction of these metal ions on the basis of the energy needed. In most cases, the result is that extraction in amounts comparable to the present production from land mines would be impossible because of the very large amount of energy needed. This conclusion holds also for uranium as fuel for the present generation of nuclear fission plants. Nevertheless, in a few cases, mainly lithium, extraction from seawater could provide amounts of metals sufficient for closing the cycle of metal use in the economy, provided that an increased level of recycling can be attained.

Suggested Citation

  • Ugo Bardi, 2010. "Extracting Minerals from Seawater: An Energy Analysis," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(4), pages 1-13, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:2:y:2010:i:4:p:980-992:d:7855
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ugo Bardi & Alessandro Lavacchi, 2009. "A Simple Interpretation of Hubbert’s Model of Resource Exploitation," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 2(3), pages 1-16, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:appene:v:212:y:2018:i:c:p:663-679 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Vikström, Hanna & Davidsson, Simon & Höök, Mikael, 2013. "Lithium availability and future production outlooks," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 252-266.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    mineral extraction; uranium supply; lithium supply; copper supply; nuclear fission; nuclear fusion;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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