Researchers at Stanford University have revealed some advances that could make it possible to extract uranium from seawater, thereby helping in harnessing nuclear power from oceans.
It has been long known that when uranium dissolves in seawater, it combines with oxygen to form uranyl ions. The procedure requires the use of plastic fibers that contain a compound called amidoxime. The uranyl ions stick to the compound and when the plastic fibers are saturated, they are chemically treated to free the uranyl. Then it needs to be refined for using it in reactors much like ore from a mine.
However, the practicality of this process faces hurdles in the form of three major factors -:
• The amount of uranyl which sticks to the fibers
• The time taken to capture the ions and ;
• The number of times the fibers can be put to re-use
As per the researchers, they have been working to bring an improvement on all these factors viz. capacity, rate, and reuse. The team incorporated carbon and amidoxime to develop a conductive hybrid fiber. Then they were able to alter its properties by sending pulses of electricity down the fiber in a way that it collects more uranyl ions.
They also compared the hybrid and non-hybrid fibers so as to calculate which of them holds more ions before saturation. It was found that by the time the standard fiber reached saturation, the hybrid variety had already absorbed 9 times more ions before reaching saturation. Besides, during an 11-hour test when the seawater from Half Moon Bay was used, the hybrid fibers were found to have 3 times useful lifespan than the standard ones.
It’s a noteworthy conclusion that devising a practical method of extracting uranium from seawater, which produces high quantities in less time, can help in harnessing nuclear power and building a carbon-free energy future.
Although the amount of uranium is very less but the oceans are vast and hence it will possibly render an endless supply of uranium. Scientists believe that it would help the countries which depend on nuclear power but don’t possess enough uranium for the fuel.
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