Surface functionalized nanostructured ceramic sorbents for the effective collection and recovery of uranium from seawater†
The ability to collect uranium from seawater offers the potential for a nearly limitless fuel supply for nuclear energy. We evaluated the use of functionalized nanostructured sorbents for the collection and recovery of uranium from seawater. Extraction of trace minerals from seawater and brines is challenging due to the high ionic strength of seawater, low mineral concentrations, and fouling of surfaces over time. We demonstrate that rationally assembled sorbent materials that integrate high affinity surface chemistry and high surface area nanostructures into an application relevant micro/macro structure enables collection performance that far exceeds typical sorbent materials. High surface area nanostructured silica with surface chemistries composed of phosphonic acid, phosphonates, 3,4 hydroxypyridinone, and EDTA showed superior performance for uranium collection. A few phosphorous-based commercial resins, specifically Diphonix and Ln Resin, also performed well. We demonstrate an effective and environmentally benign method of stripping the uranium from the high affinity sorbents using inexpensive nontoxic carbonate solutions. The cyclic use of preferred sorbents and acidic reconditioning of materials was shown to improve performance. Composite thin films composed of the nanostructured sorbents and a porous polymer binder are shown to have excellent kinetics and good capacity while providing an effective processing configuration for trace mineral recovery from solutions. Initial work using the composite thin films shows significant improvements in processing capacity over the previously reported sorbent materials.