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« Rediscovering the promise of nuclear power | Main | Department of Energy Invests $64 Million in Advanced Nuclear Technology »
Wednesday
Jun202018

Attention knitters: Researchers harvest uranium from the sea with a yarn “net”

An adsorbent chemical is ready for another round of testing.

Take some regular old acrylic knitting yarn, modify it with a special kind of adsorbent chemical, and wave it around in the ocean. After some time, the yarn will pick up enough molecules of uranium that grams of yellowcake, the precursor to fuel used in nuclear reactors, can be made.

Of course, that description is a little reductive. The tricky part is the second step: finding an affordable adsorbent material that will attract uranium in a marine environment and then relinquish it so that it can be processed into nuclear fuel. Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington state say they've done that, and they suspect that their method might be approaching an economically viable point.

But why should we even try to pull uranium from the sea? Well, the sea is full of uranium—it's estimated to be 500 times more plentiful on Earth than gold, according to the World Nuclear Association. But on land, it's pretty labor- and carbon-intensive to recover. Penn State's Department of Earth and Mineral Engineering says that in the US, for every 2,000 pounds of uranium ore that's mined, just three to 10 pounds of that will contain uranium. Uranium milled from ore is called yellowcake, technically known as uranium oxide (U3O8). The uranium oxide has to undergo further refinement to be used as a fuel, but once it's properly processed, it can generate a significant amount of greenhouse-gas-free energy.

If collecting uranium from the sea reaches cost-parity with mining uranium ore, we could potentially unlock a significant resource whose extraction is theoretically less environmentally damaging than uranium mining on land.

more.......

Thinking outside the box as they say.....

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