A Florida State University research team found a unique way to separate metal ions. This process could help to purify water or even recycle nuclear waste. They decided to use a simple, widely available energy source – Light.
Postdoctoral researcher Sahan Salpage and Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kenneth Hanson described their strategy in the article published in Chemical Communications.
Hanson said that since she is a photochemist, light is her solution to every problem. They believe that light can be used in order to separate things that are difficult to purify by other means.
Hanson is working together with fellow Professor of Chemistry Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt, who directs the Center for Actinide Science and Technology, Department of Energy-funded Energy Frontiers Research Center. The center’s primary goal is to develop a solution for cleanup of nuclear wastes from reactors, Cold-era weapon production sites, etc.
More specifically, the team was working on separating metal ions (including some of the most known elements such as iron, calcium and potassium and the heavier radioactive elements such as americium and curium).
Usually, the process of separation of these elements is very difficult and expensive. However, it is a very important step for recycling nuclear waste or purifying water containing heavy metal contaminations like lead. Finding an easier, cheaper and more environment-friendly way will be a huge progress.
The team began their research by surrounding iron and ruthenium ions with an organic chelating agent that binds to the metal. Under the specific colors of light – blue for ruthenium and red for iron – electrons from the metal were transferred to the organic surroundings, changing their properties. It can be used to separate the metal ions.
The current focus of study is on the iron and ruthenium compounds. This allows Hanson and Salpage to develop and hone the technique. The ultimate goal of the project is to separate radioactive compounds including elements such as americium and curium.