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MAE Seminar: Maha Haji, Ph.D. (ATA Engineering), "Design of Symbiotic Systems to Extract Critical Minerals from Seawater"

Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 4:30pm

Upson Hall, 206

ABSTRACT:  With the increased energy and electronic product demands of the 21st century, limited terrestrial supply of critical minerals will cause shortages in the future - likely within our lifetime. Fortunately, supplies of many valuable minerals are greater in seawater than on land. Current efforts to extract minerals from the oceans focus on mining their solid forms from the seabed. This approach, however, is extremely challenging, cost prohibitive, and immensely destabilizing to ecosystems. In this talk, I will detail how chemical adsorbents can be used to passively extract uranium from seawater for nuclear fuel. Specifically, I will discuss the ways in which a symbiotic system integrating a mineral harvester with an existing offshore wind turbine can enable increased efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and decrease mineral production cost. I will present tools that enable optimization of the mechanical system design which ultimately resulted in cost reductions of over 30% - enabling seawater uranium harvesting to be cost-competitive with breeder reactors (another alternative solution to the limited uranium supply). Finally, I will discuss the application of these design tools to harvesting other minerals, such as cobalt, from seawater. In particular, I will show how cobalt, a mineral that may be the limiting factor to large-scale lithium-ion battery production, could be harvested from the Gulf of Mexico using symbiotic systems in enough supply to meet over 27% of the nation’s 2017 cobalt consumption.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH:  Maha Haji is currently a project engineer at ATA Engineering with expertise in analysis-driven design. She completed her Ph.D. in Mechanical and Oceanographic Engineering as part of a joint program between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she was also an NSF Graduate Fellow. Her research interests center around developing design methods for symbiotic systems to enhance sustainable use of the oceans to solve problems in the water-energy-food nexus. Her work includes the analysis, design, and testing of symbiotic systems that passively extract minerals from seawater. Maha previously received her M.S. in Oceanographic Engineering jointly from MIT and WHOI, along with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and B.A. in Applied Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.

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