Minerva Lithium wins TechCrunch startup competition

Posted on October 21, 2022

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(Feature-LaunchUNCG) Dr. Hemali Rathnayake and graduate student Sheeba Dawood in the lab. They are creating a filter to gather lithium from wastewater produced by the petroleum industry.
Dr. Sheeba Dawood and Dr. Hemali Rathnayake hold up a filter they created to extract lithium.
Dr. Sheeba Dawood ’20 PhD and Dr. Hemali Rathnayake

Lithium has become an integral part of daily life. It’s used in the batteries for phones and electric vehicles. However, current methods of harvesting lithium are costly and leave their own negative impact on the environment.

A UNC Greensboro spinoff, co-founded by an alumna and an associate professor, is solving those drawbacks.

Minerva Lithium‘s Nano Mosaic just took first place in Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022. Nano Mosaic looks like pieces of small black gravel, but its coordinate polymer framework has a surface area equal to that of a soccer pitch. It can extract lithium and other critical minerals from brine.

Dr. Sheeba Dawood ’20 PhD and Dr. Hemali Rathnayake, associate professor of nanoscience, co-founded Minerva Lithium. Dawood studied under Rathnayake as a graduate student at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN).

“Everyone is talking about batteries, but is anyone really talking about the minerals that are needed in the battery?” Dawood says, regarding what inspired her to work on a new method of extracting lithium.

According to Dawood, the evaporative brine processing currently used to extract lithium has to evaporate 500 thousand gallons of water to gather one metric ton of lithium. Nano Mosaic can extract the same amount with just 30 thousand gallons.

It also drastically reduces the time and the carbon output. The current method releases roughly five thousand grams of carbon. Minerva Lithium has zero carbon emissions.

Minerva Lithium’s presentation at TechCrunch Disrupt 2022

The winner of Startup Battlefield receives a $100 thousand prize. Minerva Lithium was one of thousands of applicants, which was whittled down to 200 startups for the Startup Battlefield 200.

The top 20 competed for the Disrupt Cup in San Francisco on October 18-20.

Dawood and Minerva Lithium have been featured multiple times in UNCG’s Research Magazine and the Bryan Business Report.

In 2020, Dawood was named UNCG Student Entrepreneur of the Year by UNCG’s North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center.

Rathnayake received the 2022 Junior Research Excellence Award for her interdisciplinary research combining chemistry and nanoscience.

Dawood hopes that this technology can also be used for other environmentally-friendly purposes, such as extracting toxins like lead from drinking water.

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications


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