UNCG researcher selected for NCInnovation grant to develop lithium refining process

Posted on May 20, 2024

Dr. Helami Rathnayake and graduate student Kelvin Aldrah working on lithium

UNC Greensboro’s Dr. Hemali Rathnayake has been funded by NCInnovation for her work on a refining process to convert lithium into battery-grade lithium carbonate. She is one of eight researchers in North Carolina selected by the state-funded nonprofit to receive its $5.2 million pilot round of funding.

The grant approval is conditioned on standard next steps, including executed grant agreements and formal notification to government partners. This funding is part of NCInnovation’s larger mission to unlock the innovative potential of North Carolina’s world-class universities.

“From mobile phones to automobiles, our everyday modern lifestyle relies on lithium batteries,” said Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “Purification of lithium is key to battery production, a critical emerging industry at home in Greensboro, our state and surrounding region, and globally. UNC Greensboro is proud of Dr. Hemali Rathnayake and the pioneering research she leads in the development of a cost-effective and efficient lithium refining process. The funding support from state legislators and NCInnovation is vital to continuing this applied research.”

Rathnayake’s refining technology has the potential to boost a sustainable domestic supply chain for lithium-based products. The global demand for lithium is experiencing substantial growth due to its primary role in energy storage, electronic bikes, electrification of tools, and other battery-intense applications, and North Carolina has a large and growing lithium and battery industry.

“Dr. Rathnayake’s lithium refining solutions show incredible promise for North Carolina’s economy,” said Michelle Bolas, NCInnovation Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer. “This work has the capability to help advance our mission to make North Carolina THE innovation state.”

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