Amidoximes aid in extraction of uranium from seawater

January 10, 2024, 7:01AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A new material based on amidoxime chemical groups may allow electrochemical extraction technology to extract uranium ions from seawater more efficiently than previous methods, according to a recent study published by the American Chemical Society’s ACS Central Science. If put into practical use, the new method, which was developed by researchers in China, could offer an environmentally sustainable source of fuel for nuclear power plants.

Uranium in the sea: The authors of the study note that the Nuclear Energy Agency estimates that 4.5 billion tons of uranium exist in Earth’s oceans as dissolved uranium ions. That estimate amounts to more than 1,000 times the amount of uranium that is known to exist on land. The efficient and effective extraction of this marine uranium would obviously be beneficial for the nuclear energy industry. Unfortunately, with existing systems, the available surface area of the marine material that would be needed for such extraction is insufficient for effective uranium ion capture.

Trapping uranium: To solve this problem, investigators knew that they had to create a material with greater surface area for the electrochemical capture of uranium ions from seawater. They coated a flexible carbon cloth of electrodes with monomers that were then polymerized and treated with hydroxylamine hydrochloride in order to add amidoxime chemical groups to the polymers. The resulting microstructure of the cloth electrodes contained many tiny pockets in which the amidoxime could act to trap uranium ions.

Bohai Sea: The researchers used seawater from the Bohai Sea, off the east coast of China, to test their new cloth. The specially coated electrodes were able to extract 12.6 milligrams of uranium per gram of water over a 24-day period—a greater amount than was retrieved with other uranium-extracting methods examined in the study.

Furthermore, the new uranium ion extraction method produced results that were three times faster than natural accumulation of ions on the cloth.

Nuclear fuel: Investigators concluded that their research suggests the potential usefulness of a new, effective method for extracting uranium from seawater. This amidoxime-based method, they proposed, could lead to the use of Earth’s oceans as a new source of fuel for nuclear power plants.

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