Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Environmental Analysis
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Graphene Oxide Soaks Up Radioactive Waste

Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Rice, Moscow State universities collaborate on solution to toxic groundwater woes.

Graphene oxide has a remarkable ability to quickly remove radioactive material from contaminated water, researchers at Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University have found.

A collaborative effort by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour and the Moscow lab of chemist Stepan Kalmykov determined that microscopic, atom-thick flakes of graphene oxide bind quickly to natural and human-made radionuclides and condense them into solids. The flakes are soluble in liquids and easily produced in bulk.

The experimental results were reported in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

The discovery, Tour said, could be a boon in the cleanup of contaminated sites like the Fukushima nuclear plants damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It could also cut the cost of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas recovery and help reboot American mining of rare earth metals, he said.

Graphene oxide’s large surface area defines its capacity to adsorb toxins, Kalmykov said. “So the high retention properties are not surprising to us,” he said. “What is astonishing is the very fast kinetics of sorption, which is key.”

“In the probabilistic world of chemical reactions where scarce stuff (low concentrations) infrequently bumps into something with which it can react, there is a greater likelihood that the ‘magic’ will happen with graphene oxide than with a big old hunk of bentonite,” said Steven Winston, a former vice president of Lockheed Martin and Parsons Engineering and an expert in nuclear power and remediation who is working with the researchers. “In short, fast is good.”

Determining how fast was the object of experiments by the Kalmykov group. The lab tested graphene oxide synthesized at Rice with simulated nuclear wastes containing uranium, plutonium and substances like sodium and calcium that could negatively affect their adsorption. Even so, graphene oxide proved far better than the bentonite clays and granulated activated carbon commonly used in nuclear cleanup.

Graphene oxide introduced to simulated wastes coagulated within minutes, quickly clumping the worst toxins, Kalmykov said. The process worked across a range of pH values.

“To see Stepan’s amazement at how well this worked was a good confirmation,” Tour said. He noted that the collaboration took root when Alexander Slesarev, a graduate student in his group, and Anna Yu. Romanchuk, a graduate student in Kalmykov’s group, met at a conference several years ago.

The researchers focused on removing radioactive isotopes of the actinides and lanthanides – the 30 rare earth elements in the periodic table – from liquids, rather than solids or gases. “Though they don’t really like water all that much, they can and do hide out there,” Winston said. “From a human health and environment point of view, that’s where they’re least welcome.”

Naturally occurring radionuclides are also unwelcome in fracking fluids that bring them to the surface in drilling operations, Tour said. “When groundwater comes out of a well and it’s radioactive above a certain level, they can’t put it back into the ground,” he said. “It’s too hot. Companies have to ship contaminated water to repository sites around the country at very large expense.” The ability to quickly filter out contaminants on-site would save a great deal of money, he said.

He sees even greater potential benefits for the mining industry. Environmental requirements have “essentially shut down U.S. mining of rare earth metals, which are needed for cell phones,” Tour said. “China owns the market because they’re not subject to the same environmental standards. So if this technology offers the chance to revive mining here, it could be huge.”

Tour said that capturing radionuclides does not make them less radioactive, just easier to handle. “Where you have huge pools of radioactive material, like at Fukushima, you add graphene oxide and get back a solid material from what were just ions in a solution,” he said. “Then you can skim it off and burn it. Graphene oxide burns very rapidly and leaves a cake of radioactive material you can then reuse.”

The low cost and biodegradable qualities of graphene oxide should make it appropriate for use in permeable reactive barriers, a fairly new technology for in situ groundwater remediation, he said.

Romanchuk, Slesarev, Kalmykov and Tour are co-authors of the paper with Dmitry Kosynkin, a former postdoctoral researcher at Rice, now with Saudi Aramco. Kalmykov is radiochemistry division head and a professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science at Rice.

The Office of Naval Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, M-I SWACO and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded work at Rice. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, a Russian Federation President stipend to Romanchuk and the Russian Basic Research Foundation funded research at Moscow State.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Water-cleanup Catalysts Tackle Biomass Upgrading
Rice University researchers register 4th ‘volcano plot’ for palladium-gold catalysts.
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Rice Scientists ID New Catalyst for Cleanup of Nitrites
Gold-palladium nanocatalysts set new mark for breakdown of nitrites.
Monday, December 02, 2013
Scientific News
Safer, Faster Way To Remove Pollutants From Water
Using nanoparticles filled with enzymes proves more effective than current methods.
Low Impact Fracking Fluid on Top at IChemE Global Awards
A novel fracturing fluid designed to make fracking greener.
Marine Invasive Species May Benefit From Rising CO2 Levels
Ocean acidification may well be helping invasive species of algae, jellyfish, crabs and shellfish to move to new areas of the planet with damaging consequences, according to the findings of a new report.
Game for Climate Adaptation
MIT-led project shows a new method to help communities manage climate risks.
Tufts Chemist Discovers Way to Isolate Single-crystal Ice Surfaces
Promises insights into climate, environment and age-old riddles, such as why no two snowflakes are alike.
Potential Indirect Effects of Humans on Water Quality
Newly studied class of water contaminants occur naturally, but are more prevalent in populated areas.
Rapid Method for Water, Air and Soil Pathogen Screening
Researchers at BGU and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a highly sensitive, cost-effective technology for rapid bacterial pathogen screening of air, soil, water, and agricultural produce in as little as 24 hours.
First Results Describing Sick Sea Star Immune Response
Though millions of sea stars along the West Coast have perished in the past several years from an apparent wasting disease, scientists still don’t know why.
Microbe Sleuth
Tanja Bosak examines how life and the Earth evolved in tandem during their early history together.
The Age of Humans Controlling Microbes
Engineered bacteria could soon be used to detect environmental toxins, treat diseases, and sustainably produce chemicals and fuels.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos