Feasibility of thorium extraction from a solid monazite matrix utilizing supercritical CO2 with TBP and HFA as chelates
Mastoroudes, Bruce De Cliffordt
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With current energy demands globally and locally, nuclear energy remains one of the top competitors for cleaner and sustainable energy. The nuclear industry requires more inherent safety and proliferation resistance in reactor design. Thorium has therefore been identified as a possible fuel for future nuclear reactors that can comply with these requirements. However current extraction techniques are expensive, time consuming and generate large quantities of hazardous waste. A possible alternative to conventional solvent extraction of thorium is SFE (Supercritical Fluid Extraction). A monazite sample from the Steenkampskraal mine was investigated using SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) analysis methods to determine the distribution of thorium in the grains that could potentially complicate the effectiveness of the SFE extraction method if zoning is present. The results show a homogeneous distribution with no discernable zonation in the grains. The concentration of Th, Ce and Nd was determined by quantitative MPA (Micro Probe Analysis). The results obtained from the MPA point analysis on several grains show average Th, Ce and Nd concentrations of 6.5 wt. %, 24.1 wt. % and 9.7 wt. % respectively. The extraction of Th+4 from a filter paper was conducted to verify the extraction procedure and extractability of transition elements employing SFE. The extraction was conducted using supercritical CO2 and methanol as co-solvent with TBP (Tributyl Phosphate) and HFA (Hexafluoroacetylacetone) added in situ as chelates. ICP-MS results for the Th+4 extraction procedure showed extraction efficiency of 53 % compared to 83 % in literature (Kumar et al. 2009). This marked difference in extraction efficiency is attributed to ineffective trapping methods employed and lack of prior maintenance and support on the extraction apparatus. Subsequently all further extracted samples of Th from monazite were tested using XRF analysis methods. Due to the lack of prior maintenance on the extraction apparatus several technical breakdowns were encountered and addressed from a mechanical engineering standpoint. The operational effectiveness of the modified apparatus was verified through the extraction of marula seed oil and compared with another supercritical fluid (SF) extractor to show 50 % extraction efficiency in each case. A review of the literature indicated that the crystal chemical requirements for substitution of trivalent (Ce+3) for tetravalent (Th+4) may be fulfilled during SFE processes. Experimental substitution extractions were conducted by addition of different chelates and were conducted by subjecting the monazite samples to 20 MPa pressure for 180 min static flow and 10 min continuous flow extraction times with a CO2 flow rate of 2 mL/min with 10 % co-solvent flow rate. The results of the two sets of substitution extractions namely α and β show no clear indication of Th extraction. The maximum theoretical efficiency obtainable under current extraction equipment limitations was calculated as 12%. The XRF analysis error margin was given by the analytical laboratory as 10 %. The literature has shown the substitution of trivalent cations for tetravalent cations in the monazite structure to be a valid reaction mechanism. The experimental results showed little or no success in extracting thorium from monazite. In order to prove the practical feasibility of thorium extraction several changes to the experimental operating conditions is required.
- Engineering