Student Research

Redox Active Ligands for Separation of Lanthanides from Nuclear Waste

During nuclear fission of uranium, various elements including lanthanides and actinides are created through a cascading transfer of neutrons. Processes have been developed to separate actinides from nuclear waste for their continued use, which are useful for extending the lifespan of a nuclear power plant. However, a good process for separating the lanthanides has not yet been developed. Lanthanides are detrimental to the lifespan of the fuel, but have a variety of commercial uses such as magnets in electronics, lenses, and as catalysts. Ideally, a relatively inexpensive bench-top process could be developed to separate lanthanides from nuclear waste. Redox-active ligands are a potential solution because they could allow for differences in electronic properties to be tailored for separations. Catecholates of gadolinium made in a basic solution are known, but were synthesized air-free. In the current work, redox active ligands including catechol and toluene-3,4-dithiol were reacted with neodymium to test air-free and bench top syntheses. This will help determine whether these ligands are suitable candidates for separations, and crystals were grown to compare structural properties. Initial findings indicate that benchtop reactions produce different products than under argon and efforts are underway to fully characterize these products.