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An Investigation of Aggregation in Synergistic Solvent Extraction Systems


With an increasing focus on anthropogenic climate change, nuclear reactors present an attractive option for base load power generation with regard to air pollution and carbon emissions, especially when compared with traditional fossil fuel based options. However, used nuclear fuel (UNF) is highly radiotoxic and contains minor actinides (americium and curium) which remain more radiotoxic than natural uranium ore for hundreds of thousands of years, presenting a challenge for long-term storage . Advanced nuclear fuel recycling can reduce this required storage time to thousands of years by removing the highly radiotoxic minor actinides. Many advanced separation schemes have been proposed to achieve this separation but none have been implemented to date. A key feature among many proposed schemes is the use of more than one extraction reagent in a single extraction phase, which can lead to the phenomenon known as "synergism" in which the extraction efficiency for a combination of the reagents is greater than that of the individual extractants alone. This feature is not well understood for many systems and a comprehensive picture of the mechanism behind synergism does not exist. There are several proposed mechanisms for synergism though none have been used to model multiple extraction systems.

This work examines several proposed advanced extractant combinations which exhibit synergism: 2-bromodecanoic acid (BDA) with 2,2':6',2"-terpyridine (TERPY), tri-n-butylphosphine oxide (TPBO) with 2-thenoyltrifluoro acetone (HTTA), and dinonylnaphthalene sulfonic acid (HDNNS) with 5,8-diethyl-7-hydroxy-dodecan-6-oxime (LIX). We examine two proposed synergistic mechanisms involving and attempt to verify the ability of these mechanisms to predict the extraction behavior of the chosen systems. These are a reverse micellar catalyzed extraction model and a mixed complex formation model. Neither was able to effectively predict the synergistic behavior of the systems. We further examine these systems for the presence of large reverse micellar aggregates and thermodynamic signatures of aggregation. Behaviors differed widely from system to system, suggesting the possibility of more than one mechanism being responsible for similar observed extraction trends.

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