Ezra's Round Table / Systems Seminar: Maha Haji (Cornell) - Design of Symbiotic Systems for Passive Seawater Mineral Extraction




With the increased energy and electronic product demands of the 21st century, the limited terrestrial supply of critical minerals is expected to cause shortages -- likely within our lifetime. Fortunately, supplies of many valuable minerals are greater in seawater than on land. Current efforts to extract minerals from the oceans focus on mining their solid forms from the seabed. This approach, however, is extremely challenging, cost prohibitive, and immensely destabilizing to ecosystems. This presentation will discuss how chemical adsorbents can be used to passively extract minerals from seawater, starting with a case of uranium for nuclear fuel. Symbiotic systems that integrate a mineral harvester with an existing offshore wind turbine have been shown to increase efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and decrease mineral production cost. This talk will describe the foregoing, and also present some promising initial work applying these design tools to minerals that are key to large-scale lithium-ion battery production, such as cobalt and lithium.

Dr. Maha Haji is a joint researcher in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell and the Engineering Systems Laboratory at MIT. Her research focuses on designing offshore systems to sustainably extract resources from the ocean such as power, water, and food, as well as mineral resources key to the progress of clean energy. In July 2021, Dr. Haji will be joining the faculty at Cornell as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and launching the Symbiotic Engineering and Analysis Lab (https://sea.mae.cornell.edu). She received her Ph.D. in Mechanical and Oceanographic Engineering in 2017 from the Joint Program between MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she focused on the design and prototyping of a symbiotic system to harvest uranium from seawater. Dr. Haji has also worked in industry as an engineering consultant at ATA Engineering, where she used analysis-driven design to solve problems ranging from aircraft and rockets to robotics and rollercoasters. She also holds degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.