Graphene CDT alumnus spinout wins Innovate UK grant for lithium extraction

Watercycle Technologies, a spinout from The University of Manchester, has secured initial funding for an innovative technology that uses advanced graphene-based membranes and systems to extract lithium and other minerals from brines and water solutions. 

The company was founded by Dr Sebastian (Seb) Leaper, who completed the Graphene NOWNANO Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) programme in 2019. His PhD research focused on a water treatment technology known as membrane distillation, which is capable of producing drinking water from highly concentrated brines. 

During his PhD Seb won first prize in the Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award, providing him with a £50,000 grant to work towards commercialising his ideas. He has since founded spinout company Watercycle Technologies, which is applying his and co-founder Dr Ahmed Abdelkarim's research to extracting lithium and other critical minerals from various water sources. 

Seb is Chief Executive Officer of the company, which received £500,000 equity investment with Aer Ventures in March 2022 and a further £500,000 from Innovate UK through its highly competitive Smart Grant program. 

The team of ten is working on several exciting projects with various UK and international partners to supply the growing demand for lithium driven by electric vehicles. Watercycle’s patented filtration process can selectively extract lithium from sub-surface waters. Given lithium’s essential role in battery technologies, the ability to obtain it from water cost-effectively and establish a domestic supply of the mineral is vital for the UK’s Net Zero Strategy.

The CDT provides the student with the perfect balance of breadth and depth. Innovations often come about by making connections between different subject areas. Making friends with a cohort of physicists, biologists, chemists, chemical engineers and materials scientists, as I did on the CDT, put me in a unique position to innovate.

Dr Sebastian Leaper, CEO Watercycle Technologies

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