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.”

There is a 24 page DOE report on mining seawater.

SOURCES- Xinhua, DOE, Oak Ridge National Labs
Written By Brian Wang,

24 thoughts on “China Makes Innovation Alliance to Accelerate Extracting Uranium from Seawater”

  1. This is for long term, not short term.

    Short term uranium is cheaper from mines. Long term (hundreds of years) the mines will be more expensive as the ores which are left will be poorer. Ocean will have endless supply for uranium. Combined with offshore wind power ocean uranium extraction might end up quite scalable after all.

  2. Even the various metres that have been used over time only vary by fractions of a %.

    At least they aren’t as bad a leagues.

  3. Yes, they bought Uranium mines in Africa and Mongolia. the people in Shanghai will not protest if they are polluting in Namibia and Niger. 🙂

  4. You are speaking about the cost of fuel I presume. But what about the cost of Uranium in a MWh? The way I always understood it, the cost of Uranium is only a small part of the cost of fuel. Am I wrong?

  5. If you used fast reactors you could use the available spent fuel and the depleted Uranium both of which are problem materials at the moment, and you would not not need to mine any new Uranium for a very very long time.
    Not only would you get the stuff free, but I am sure you could make a fair amount of money for just taking it of peoples hands.

  6. Then using the above numbers, a fast reactor fueled by seawater extraction would spend 2.8% of revenue on its fuel.

    A fast reactor fueled by mining would be down to 0.28%, which is better as long as it lasts but after mining gets expensive, 2.8% seems perfectly fine.

  7. I’m not saying it’s trivially easy to build a breeder reactor. I’m saying that if you have a breeder reactor you get so much energy out of so little fuel that it is trivially easy to store many years fuel supply.

  8. Looking it up, there are a several different miles around, but the US and UK happen to use the same one. At least for automotive use.

  9. I don’t know that’s I’d call that “trivially” easy. And seawater extracted Uranium would be about as feasible in regular reactors, though it wouldn’t stretch as far.

  10. But if you are using breeder reactors it would be trivially easy to store several decades supply of uranium if you thought an embargo might last that long

  11. Yes. For some reason the US chose to use a smaller gallon than the UK a few centuries & stuck with the wrong gallon.

  12. That’s nitpicking, like saying that I don’t burn wood in my fireplace, I drive off/crack volatiles and burn those, and then burn the remaining carbon, without at any time actually burning wood.

    A breeder reactor converts the U238 to a fissile isotope, and then fissions that, and gets net energy out of the total reaction chain, while that reaction chain evaluated as a whole is above unity in neutrons.

    Anyway, while it would take either some serious advances in seawater extraction, or some serious impediments to mining, to make seawater extraction the economical choice, fuel costs are such a tiny fraction of nuclear power that you could use either source even now without significantly changing the economics. You’d be throwing away money, but not very much of it.

    This means that seawater extraction could be an attractive option for a country that either lacks access to mineable Uranium, and fears it might be subject to an embargo, or for a country that has mineable Uranium, and simply wants to spend some money avoiding digging messy holes on land.

  13. I’m saying that mined uranium is economical in today’s reactors, whose cost is mainly capital cost. Therefore, seawater uranium is economical in fast reactors. They use 1% as much natural uranium (since they can fission U238), so at 10X higher fuel cost they’ll spend 10% as much on fuel as today’s reactors.

    This does not mean we wouldn’t keep mining uranium while that’s available. It does mean we don’t have to worry about running out of affordable uranium.

  14. Well… If you can prove that the amount of uranium is – for all practical purposes – inexhaustible, then the whole argument about “sustainability” becomes moot and nuclear would become an even more attractive source of energy. In a rational world, that is…

    Also, one should not bet that ocean mining will forever be more expensive than conventional mining. Who lives will see…

  15. Mind you, a number of cars are available these days that CAN do 80 mpg.

    Eg. VW Polo tdi is rated at extra-urban 108 MPG (UK) – 90 MPG (US) (I guess the different countries have different tests and (bizarrely) different gallons. For all I know they have different miles too.)

  16. Even 10X more expensive than mining is not that bad, if you’re using the uranium in a fast reactor that gets 100X as much energy from a given amount of uranium.

  17. This sort of makes sense for a nuclear nation with no local Uranium that could conceivably be cut off from Uranium imports (France, Britain, Sweden, Korea, India and Japan) but given that China has extensive mines it seems pretty strange to me.

  18. Colocating with an OTEC plant so you can take advantage of the pumped effulent to increase the volume of seawater passsing through the membranes would cover both the power draw and capture effectiveness, compared to a floating offshore wind turbine spar mounted with membrane loops.

    Doesn’t china currently get their uranium from areas near Mongolia at reasonable prices anyways?

    Hey Brian, are you gonna put up an article about the recent superconducting wind turbine demo?

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