Peak Resource and Anti-Nuclear Doomers Really Hate Uranium from Seawater Technology and Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors

Ugo Bardi and Michael Dittmar contributed to a new Club of Rome report which forecasts economic doom because of lack of future resources. Nextbigfuture has shown Ugo Bardi analysis to be flawed and bets on Uranium annual production and Nuclear power generation have been won by Nextbigfuture for 6 out of 9 bets versus Dittmar.

UGO calculations are off by many thousands of times and Dittmar has been wrong on his uranium predictions for years

The report forecasts an “unavoidable” production decline from existing uranium mines. This is the same type of claim that Dittmar has been making for years and being proven wrong in our bets. I have won every one of the uranium production bets..

Ugo Bardi first calculation is for “evaporating the ocean”, which no one is proposing and he unsurprisingly finds that has very poor energy return.

Ugo claims we need to process at least 2 × 10^13 tons of water per year to produce enough uranium for the current park of nuclear reactors in the world. To process this amount of water, we must rely on oceanic currents to move water through the membranes. In marine science, current strength is sometimes measured in “Sverdrups”, a unit that corresponds to one million tons of water per second, or 3 × 10^13 tons of water per year. Ugo looks at the Strait of Gibraltar which carries a current of about 1 Sverdrup.

Japan has proposed various scaling up plans for uranium from seawater They look at the Black Current (42 Sverdrup, 42 times stronger than the current Ugo looked at) in the ocean off of Japan and how much materials it is moving. They would put uranium extraction materials in its path and collect uranium and other resources as they are moved past the materials that would trap the resources.

The Black Current off Japan carries approximately 5.2 million tons of Uranium each year. This amount is equivalent to the currently estimated land based uranium reserves. The World uses about 70,000 tons of uranium per year. If 1.4 percent of what flows along Japan can be recovered, the world demand for uranium can be supplied even with existing inefficient reactors.

The material sits in the ocean like fishnet for 1-3 months and then it is pulled up and acid washed to remove the uranium. A large platform like an oil drilling platform can be used to process the uranium absorping nets out in the ocean.

Kuroshio which has 42 Sverdrups.

The Agulhas Current is the Western Boundary Current of the southwest Indian Ocean. It flows down the east coast of Africa from 27°S to 40°S. It is narrow, swift and strong. It is even suggested that the Agulhas is the largest western boundary current in the world ocean, as comparable western boundary currents transport less, ranging from the Brazil Current, 16.2 Sverdrups), to the Kuroshio, 42 Sverdrups

The sources of the Agulhas Current are the East Madagascar Current (25 Sverdrups), the Mozambique Current (5 Sverdrups) and a reticulated part of the Agulhas Current itself (35 Sverdrups). The net transport of the Agulhas Current is estimated as 100 Sv.

* Ugo considers a process where membranes for uranium extraction are carried at sea, submerged for a while, raised, brought back to land for processing, and then the cycle is repeated.

* Ugo assumes recovering one kilogram of uranium, therefore, would require processing at least 3 tons of membranes per year. However the technology has been field tested at 3.3 kilograms of uranium per one ton of material so ten times better than Ugo estimates. There is also newer material which could achieve 12- 200 kilograms of uranium per ton of absorbent material.

* Ugo calculates using the ratio of 5 kWh/kg for energy expenditure in fishing, and assuming the yield and the conditions reported by Seko , we can calculate a total energy expenditure of about 1000 TWh/year for processing the membranes to give sufficient amounts to fuel the present needs of the nuclear industry. This is close to the total energy that could be produced by the extracted uranium, ca. 2600 TWh/year. An energy gain (EROEI) of 2.6 is larger than unity, but it is too low for the process to be of practical interest.

In 2000, the world’s fishing fleets were responsible for about 1.2% of total global fuel consumption, corresponding to 0.67 liters of fuel per Kg of live fish and shellfish landed. In 2008, the EU fleet consumed 3.7 billion liters of fuel, representing 25% of the value of landings.

An SEU fueled CANDU can produce 11.7MWd (megawatt-days) using 1 kg of natural uranium. (Enrich to 1.2% with 0.1% tails enrichment in a centrifuge/SILEX plant).
11.7MWd is equivalent to 280MWh which is the thermal energy of 24 tonnes of oil – that is 177 barrels of oil.

Even if we are pessimistic and say that oil is equal to electricity rather than steam heating (admittedly relatively low temperature steam produced by reactors) that is still 62 barrels of oil in electricity.

62 barrels (7390 liters) of oil is a lot more energy than 0.67 liters of oil with plenty left over for acid washing and processing the polymer or other absorbent material.

Molten Salt reactors can use nuclear fuel 30-60 times more efficiently than current reactors.

Detailed cost analysis for scaling up the Japanese braided polymer adsorbent recovery system for extracting uranium from seawater shows that $299/kg U is achievable. Improved MOF or e-coli proteins could achieve better economics

An independent cost estimate for uranium production from seawater through the braid-type adsorbent recovery system proposed by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Production costs were developed with standard engineering cost estimation techniques using vendor data and plant design and operational data. The analysis includes life cycle discounted cash flows, economies of scale, and propagation of uncertainties. A reference case based on the Japan Atomic Energy Agency assessment, with a fresh adsorbent capacity of 2 kgU/t ads and 6 recycles, yielded a production cost of $1230/kg uranium with a 95 percent confidence interval of [$1030/kg U, $1430/kg U] when component cost uncertainties alone were considered. Sensitivity studies confirmed that adsorbent capacity, number of recycles, and capacity degradation are major cost drivers. If capacity and number of recycles increases to 6 kg U/t ads and 20, respectively, with no degradation and unchanged adsorbent production costs, the uranium production cost drops to $299/kg U.

59 pages of detailed third party process flow and cost estimation analysis for applying and scaling up the Japanese braided polymer uranium from seawater extraction method.

Other Analysis and Review of Uranium Extraction from Seawater

Past and Future Efforts to Extract Uranium from Seawater by Carol Regalbuto at Stanford University. March 21, 2014

Carol reviews the work with other adsorbents, Metal Organic Framework and protein absorption of Uranium. This work is also reviewed here.

Technology Review discussed extracting uranium from seawater in 2013.

Updated Uranium Extraction US Field Tests

Field column experiments have been performed at the Marine Sciences Laboratory of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) using a laboratory-proven, amidoxime-based polymeric adsorbent developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The adsorbent was packed either in in-line filters or in flow-through columns. The maximum amount of uranium uptake from seawater was 3.3 mg of U/g of adsorbent after 8 weeks of contact between the adsorbent and seawater. This uranium adsorption amount was about 3 times higher than the maximum amount achieved in this study by a leading adsorbent developed at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Both adsorbents were tested under similar conditions. The results were used to update an assessment of the cost of large-scale recovery of uranium from seawater using the ORNL adsorbent. The updated uranium production cost was estimated to be reduced to $610/kg of U, approximately half the cost estimated for the JAEA technology.

Updated Analysis and Work from Japan for Uranium Extraction

The 2013 state of promising research into extraction of uranium from seawater — Utilization of Japan’s plentiful seas.

If Japan can establish the technologies for utilizing this exceptional exclusive economic zone (EEZ) effectively and harvest these metals from the seawater, not only will it be a major solution to Japan’s resource problems, it will certainly have a significant positive impact on Japan’s energy security.

Useful rare metals such as uranium, titanium, and vanadium are present at extremely low concentrations of 2 to 3 mg per ton of seawater, but multiplied by the total volume of the world’s oceans, it adds up to 4.4, 8.5, and 2.8 billion tons respectively. In the case of uranium, calculates to 1,000 times the estimated amount of actually recoverable land-based uranium reserves, and the surface layer of the ocean floor contains an additional 1,000 times as much, so even if uranium is harvested from the seawater, it is believed that leaching from the ocean floor would maintain the water concentration at a stable level.

In order to reduce the cost of the moored floating body, which accounted for the majority of collection costs, they devised and tested a braided adsorption material that combined both the adsorption function and the mooring function in the adsorption material itself. Development of this new adsorption material commenced in 2000, and concurrent evaluation through marine tests began in the following year.

Based on predictions that warmth would inhibit plankton and lessen the effects of microbes clogging the adsorption material, marine tests were transferred to the waters surrounding Okinawa, where it was expected that performance would be improved. As the seawater temperature of the ocean surrounding Okinawa is 30℃, 10℃ warmer than the waters off the shore of Mutsu, when they compared it with the adsorption ability of 2.0 g of uranium per 1 kg of adsorption material (with a weight conversion per kg of adsorption material, 2.0 g of uranium were collected) in Mutsu waters, they found that the performance was improved 1.5 times by the seawater temperature being 10℃ warmer.

Additionally, the improvements to the structure of the adsorption material increased adsorption ability by three times compared with the adsorption performance of 0.5g of uranium per 1 kg of adsorption material in Mutsu waters. Taking into consideration that an increase in seawater temperature of 10℃ resulted in an increase in adsorption ability of 1.5 times, it can be said that the improvements in the structure of the adsorption material improved contact efficiency with the seawater, doubling performance.

Furthermore, in small scale trials, they achieved performance of 3.0 g of uranium per 1 kg of adsorption material over 30 days of immersion, meaning that it was possible estimate adsorption performance over 60 days of at least 4.0 g of uranium per 1 kg of adsorption material.

As well, in the anchoring method using the braided adsorption material, a float is incorporated into the core of the adsorption material and it is anchored to the ocean floor, so that the installed anchor does not present any obstacle until 40 m below the surface of the water, giving it the advantage of not hindering navigation by boats except when immersed for collection, as well as lacking susceptibility to the effects of waves, even the tidal bore, due to the characteristics of this anchoring method, making it very feasible in terms of safety as well.

Taking into consideration these data and test results, by expanding the scale of extraction and further improving the extraction technology, in the future, it should be possible to reduce the cost of harvesting to as low as few tens of thousands of yen per kilogram of uranium.

Moreover, the extraction is not only for uranium. It can also be used for other rare metals. Technologies for rare metals dissolved in seawater aside from uranium have been established at the laboratory level. They can be used as though they were extremely practical underground resources which above all require no effort to find. Through extraction, it was possible to gather rare metals such as vanadium, nickel, and cobalt.

Synthetic Biology Approach to Uranium Extraction

Nature – A protein engineered to bind uranyl selectively and with femtomolar affinity

Uranyl (UO22+), the predominant aerobic form of uranium, is present in the ocean at a concentration of ~3.2 parts per 109 (13.7 nM); however, the successful enrichment of uranyl from this vast resource has been limited by the high concentrations of metal ions of similar size and charge, which makes it difficult to design a binding motif that is selective for uranyl. Here we report the design and rational development of a uranyl-binding protein using a computational screening process in the initial search for potential uranyl-binding sites. The engineered protein is thermally stable and offers very high affinity and selectivity for uranyl with a Kd of 7.4 femtomolar (fM) and over 10,000-fold selectivity over other metal ions. We also demonstrated that the uranyl-binding protein can repeatedly sequester 30–60% of the uranyl in synthetic sea water. The chemical strategy employed here may be applied to engineer other selective metal-binding proteins for biotechnology and remediation applications.

Uranyl sequestration strategy

Genetically modified seaweed or kelp (with or without synthetic biology proteins) are another method for uranium extraction. Japan is also considering the seaweed method.

Metal Organic Framework

Chemical Science Issue 6, 2013 – Highly porous and stable metal–organic frameworks for uranium extraction

Three metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) of the UiO-68 network topology were prepared using the amino-TPDC or TPDC bridging ligands containing orthogonal phosphorylurea groups (TPDC is p,p′-terphenyldicarboxylic acid), and investigated for sorption of uranium from water and artificial seawater. The stable and porous phosphorylurea-derived MOFs were shown to be highly efficient in sorbing uranyl ions, with saturation sorption capacities as high as 217 mg U per gram which is equivalent to binding one uranyl ion for every two sorbent groups. Coordination modes between uranyl groups and simplified phosphorylurea motifs were investigated by DFT calculations, revealing a thermodynamically favorable monodentate binding of two phosphorylurea ligands to one uranyl ion. Convergent orientation of phosphorylurea groups at appropriate distances inside the MOF cavities is believed to facilitate their cooperative binding with uranyl ions. This work represents the first application of MOFs as novel sorbents to extract actinide elements from aqueous media.

Uranium for more than current energy needs for 5 billion years – 4.5 billion tons of Uranium in the oceans, 4 billion tons of uranium on the seafloor and 32000 tons of uranium runoff from rivers

It now seems quite certain that uranium can be extracted from the ocean at well below $1000 per pound and there is even some optimism that it can become competitive at current market prices ($65/lb). It is clear, then, that uranium from seawater must be considered as a completely acceptable fuel for breeder reactors, contributing less than 1% to the cost of electricity. In terms of fuel cost per million BTU, even at $400/lb the uranium cost is only 1.1 cents.

Seawater contains 3.3×10^–9 (3.3 parts per billion) of uranium, whence the 1.4×10**18 tonne2 of water in the oceans contains 4.6×10**9 tonne of uranium. The energy content of uranium burned in a breeder reactor is 1 MW day/g, or 1000 GW day/tonne; at 37% efficiency, readily achievable in a breeder reactor, this is 1.0 GWe yr/tonne (GWe = GW of electricity). All of the world’s present electrical usage, 2325 GWe [372 GWe of nuclear make up 16% of world electrical supply] , could therefore be supplied by the uranium in seawater for (4.6×10**9/2325) = 1.98 million years.

At ten times the power level, it would last 198,000 years and at one hundred times it would be 19,800 years.

Rivers bring 3.2×10**13 tonne/yr of water into the oceans, and their uranium content averages 1.0×10–9 (one part per billion), whence a total of 3.2×10**4 tonne/yr of uranium enter the oceans from this source.

We can withdraw 16 000 tonne/yr of uranium from seawater continuously for hundreds of millions of years. This is enough to produce 16 000 GWe or 480 quadrillion BTU per year, which is 6 times the world’s present electricity usage, and almost the world’s present total energy consumption.

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