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July 19, 2014

United States

Alabama—Using Chitosan to Extract Uranium from Seawater

 

The USA Department of Energy has granted a University of Alabama start-up company, 525 Solutions, approximately $1.5 million to refine a procedure that uses chitosan to extract uranium from the seawater.

 

Uranium, which naturally occurs in seawater and in the Earth’s crust, is the fuel for nuclear power.  For decades, scientists have sought a more economical and efficient way to remove it from the ocean because the terrestrial supply is dwindling and environmentally unfriendly to mine.  “Every scientist in the world—except us—who is trying to do this is working with plastics,” said Dr. Gabriela Gurau, a chemist and CEO of 525 Solutions.

 

525 Solutions is developing an adsorbent, biodegradable material made from chitin, which is found in shrimp shells and in the shells of other crustaceans and insects.  The researchers have developed transparent sheets, or mats, comprised of tiny chitin fibers, to extract the uranium.  “Once you put them in the ocean, they will attract uranium like a magnet,” said Gurau, a University of Alabama alumna.

 

Earlier work led by Dr. Robin D. Rogers at UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing proved the concept for extracting uranium using chitosan.  Rogers is an owner and founder of 525 Solutions and serves as a scientific adviser to the company’s representatives.

 

Removing chitin, in a pure form, from shells had previously proven difficult, but Rogers and his UA colleagues discovered a way to use a relatively new class of solvents, called ionic liquids, to remove it.  Rogers is recognized as a world-leader in the field of ionic liquids.

 

UA researchers use a time-honored laboratory technique called electrospinning, involving 30,000 volts of electricity and a specially-prepared, chitin-based, ionic liquid solution, to produce the mats.

 

The increased surface area the nanomats provide is central to the project, said Dr. Julia Shamshina, the company’s chief technology officer and also a UA alumna.  “The larger the surface area, the larger modifications we can make and the more uranium it will uptake,” Shamshina said.

 

Also See: What is the Shrimp Processing Industry Doing with Its Surplus of Heads and Shells?

 

Information: Chris Bryant, University of Alabama Media Relations (phone 1-205-348-8323, email cbryant@ur.ua.edu).

 

Information: Dr. Robin D. Rogers, President, 525 Solutions, Inc., 32 Audubon Place, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35401, USA (phone 1-205+391-4865, webpage http://chemistry.ua.edu/faculty_profiles/robin-d-rogers).

 

Source: UA News (University of Alabama).  Shrimp, 30,000 Volts Help USA Start-Up Land $1.5 Million for Uranium Extraction.  Dr. Robin Rogers (phone 1-205-348-4323, email rdrogers@ua.edu), Dr. Gabriela Gurau (email ggurau@ua.edu) and Dr. Julia Shamshina (email jshamshina@ua.edu).  July 17, 2014.

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