Enhanced uranium extraction selectivity from seawater using dopant engineered layered double hydroxides†
Although the concentration of uranium (U) in seawater is extremely low (3.3 μg L−1), the total amount of U in Earth's oceans is more than one thousand times greater than the amount in terrestrial ores. To extract useable quantities of U from seawater, highly selective adsorbent materials are needed since competing elements (e.g. sodium, calcium) are present at orders of magnitude higher concentrations. Layered double hydroxide (LDH) materials are an intriguing adsorbent material for U seawater extraction, as they are simple to prepare and can incorporate multiple metal chemistries to modulate structure and properties. Herein, X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) is used to provide fundamental insight into the adsorption mechanism of U extraction from seawater and how doping of trivalent lanthanides into MgAl LDH materials can enhance their selectivity. It is revealed that the mechanism of U sorption from U-spiked seawater is primarily surface complexation with abundant Mg/Al–OH sites, along with the ion exchange mechanism whereby interlayer nitrate is replaced by anionic species (carbonate, hydroxyl and uranyl carbonate). Further, lanthanide doping increased the ionic character of bonding within the LDH and hence the selectivity for binding U via surface sorption. Neodymium doped LDH exhibited superior U selectivity to state-of-the-art amidoxime functionalised polymers, as well as adsorption capacity and kinetics comparable to these state-of-the-art adsorbents. These findings indicate that dopant engineering of LDHs provides a simple, effective method for controlling selectivity and producing adsorbents capable of challenging separations such as U extraction from seawater.
- This article is part of the themed collection: SDG 13: Climate Action