20.02.2017_No36 / News in Brief

Stanford Researchers Develop Improved Technique For Extracting Uranium From Seawater

Research & Development

20 Feb (NucNet): A new way of extracting uranium from seawater could help countries without uranium mines harness nuclear energy, a team from Stanford University in California said. The team has developed a technique that improves the capacity, rate and reusability of materials that harvest uranium from seawater. In the past, researchers at the Oak Ridge national laboratory in the US demonstrated a material that could pull uranium, in the form of uranyl ions, out of the water like a sponge. It did so with the help of plastic fibres coated in a chemical compound called amidoxime, which attracts the ions and holds them to the surface of the fibre. Once the fibre is saturated, the uranyl can be released by chemically treating the plastic, and then refined for use in reactors. Using a similar system, the Stanford researchers created their own conductive fibre made of carbon and amidoxime, which allowed them to send jolts of electricity through the material to attract more uranyl to each strand. The method improved on the previous system in three key areas: the capacity for how much uranyl the fibres can hold, the speed of ion capture, and how many times each strand can be reused. “For much of this century, some fraction of our electricity will need to come from sources that we can turn on and off,” said Steven Chu, co-author of the study. “I believe nuclear power should be part of that mix, and assuring access to uranium is part of the solution to carbon-free energy.” Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan together account for about 70% of the world’s uranium production, but for countries that aren’t rich in uranium, extracting it from the sea could be an alternative. Unfortunately, the concentrations are far too small to be viable, but the Stanford team is working on improving that. “Concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, co-author of the study. “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.” Details online: http://stanford.io/2meo4ih

Related reports in the NucNet database (available to subscribers):

  • Uranium Mining To Grow At 4% Annually By 2020, Report Says (News in Brief No.21, 30 January 2017)

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