Solvent-driven aqueous separations for hypersaline brine concentration and resource recovery
Solvent-driven separation processes can extract water and high-value minerals from high salinity or contaminated brines, simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of brine disposal and enabling resource recovery. The efficient dewatering of hypersaline brines is essential for the sustainable minimal and zero liquid discharge processing of industrial wastewaters. Fractional crystallization can selectively extract ions from contaminated waste streams, allowing critical materials to be recycled, including transition and lanthanide metals required for renewable energy generation and storage. Mass transfer in solvent-driven water extraction occurs across a liquid–liquid interface, eliminating the scaling and fouling of membrane and heat exchanger surfaces and limiting the need for extensive pretreatment. Solvent-driven fractional crystallization can leverage sequential treatment and control of process conditions to rapidly recover salts without requiring evaporation of water. Despite promising applications, the principles and potential of solvent-driven aqueous separations remain poorly understood. This critical review explores the opportunities presented by solvent-based aqueous separations from the molecular to process scale, evaluating the chemistry of solvation and system design in the broader context of desalination, resource recovery, water softening, and mineral production.