China Makes Innovation Alliance to Accelerate Extracting Uranium from Seawater

China has formed an innovation alliance to foster the research and application of extracting uranium from seawater, according to China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). The alliance involves around 20 research institutions and universities. Uranium has been extracted in small quantities from the ocean. However, the cost is about $400-600 per kilogram. This is about 7 to ten times more than the $60 per kilogram price of uranium from regular mines. The alliance will focus on setting up standards for the technology and products used in the extraction process. It will help accelerate the development of core technologies and new products, as well as create research platforms and a test base for uranium extraction from seawater to overcome hurdles in practical application.

It is estimated that about 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium is reserved in seawater, about 1,000 times of the land proven reserves, but the concentration of uranium in seawater is extremely low, making it a huge challenge to develop cost-effective seawater uranium extraction technology.

The USA, Japan and China have all researched and experimented with extracting uranium from seawater.

In March 2019, US scientists have demonstrated a new bio-inspired material for an eco-friendly and cost-effective approach to recovering uranium from seawater. A research team from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of South Florida developed a material that selectively binds dissolved uranium with a low-cost polymer adsorbent. The results, published in Nature Communications, could help push past bottlenecks in the cost and efficiency of extracting uranium resources from oceans for sustainable energy production.

To work as a scaled-up concept, ideally, unwanted elements would not be adsorbed or could easily be stripped during processing and the material reused for several cycles to maximize the amount of uranium collected,” said Popovs.

Unlike vanadium-laden materials, the H2BHT polymer can be processed using mild basic solutions and recycled for extended reuse. The eco-friendly features also bring significant cost advantages to potential real-world applications.

The next step, say researchers, is to refine the approach for greater efficiency and commercial-scale opportunities. The journal article is published as “Siderophore-Inspired Chelator Hijacks Uranium from Aqueous Medium.”