Research suggests uranium extraction from seawater possible with polymer

ORNL researcher Carter Abney is studying a polymer that someday might be used to extract uranium from seawater for reactors.
ORNL researcher Carter Abney is studying a polymer that someday might be used to extract uranium from seawater for reactors. | Courtesy of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) said recently that a process used to study polymer fibers that trap uranium in seawater may lead to a method of extracting seawater uranium for use in reactors.

Carter Abney, the project's lead researcher and a Wigner Fellow at ORNL, found that polymers that can absorb materials operate much differently than what researchers had expected, based on simulations and models.

Researchers found that these amidoximes had to pool their efforts to attach to uranium molecules and needed another metal that is not related to uranium.

Through this information, the team found that it would be theoretically possible to develop absorbent material that could harness uranium from oceans and other bodies of seawater.

“Nuclear power production is anticipated to increase with a growing global population, but estimates predict only 100 years of uranium reserves in terrestrial ores,” Abney said. “There is approximately 1,000 times that amount dissolved in the ocean, which would meet global demands for the foreseeable future.”

Abney also said these results also highlight the developmental need for computational enhancements and to reevaluate the practice of basing assumptions off of models.

The research was published by the journal Energy & Environmental Science in collaboration with the University of Chicago.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory 1 Bethel Valley Rd Oak Ridge, TN - 37830-8050

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