Magnet superimposed over map of the U.S.

Design Insights: An Attractive Solution; All Your Physics in One Place; Enter the Idea! Awards

May 26, 2021
A review of the day’s top trending stories from Machine Design editors.

An Attractive Solution

As Machine Design reports this week, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have mixed nanoparticles of magnetite with brine water to remove lithium and other rare earth metals. This avoids the more expensive and time-consuming process of filtering out the metals.

“Current approaches for extracting lithium, however, require pumping large volumes of water, thousands of gallons a minute, through an ion exchange filter, making them energy intensive and expensive,” says Pete McGrail, a PNNL researcher and recognized expert on rare earth metal recovery technology. 

A team of PNNL researchers tackling the problem of finding an economic way to get valuable rare earth elements out of brine water from mining/drilling fluids, geothermal plants and seawater decided to look at the problem on the nanoscale. They came up with a nanotech process that miniaturizes most of the extraction and eliminates the need for ion exchange separators.

The process starts with nanoparticles of iron oxide, better known as magnetite. An absorbent shell that selectively binds to the compound being extracted is attached to each nanoparticle. Coated nanoparticles are put in containers with the brine and mixed. As they float around in the brine, particles of the targeted compound come into contact with them and attach themselves.

A magnet is then used to reel in the magnetite-rich nanoparticles along with the critical material, which is filtered and recovered. You can review a video of the process here.

All Your Physics in One Place

One concept The Big Bang Theory brought to those without a doctorate in physics is the Unified Theory. In a new e-book available at, Siemens discusses a way to unify all the aspects of physics that affect manufacturing operations in one software program.

The Multi-Physics Simulation allows study across mechanical, electrical and electronic domains by generating multiple what if scenarios in 1D models. It can help identify solutions to complex industrial problems spanning all systems, enabling you to improve your innovation processes. Download this new e-book here.

Enter the IDEA! Awards

The 2021 IDEA! Awards entry deadline is July 9. To enter, go to this link.

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