The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project is to develop a green approach to the clean-up and mitigation of uranium-contaminated solutions. Mining in the Southwest United States has left thousands of legacy sites with uranium-contaminated soils. These soils are polluting adjacent water resources that, in turn, pose serious threats to human and environmental health. One area alone has over 500 abandoned uranium mining sites, and over 10% of tested water sources exceed national drinking water standards. Uranium is a challenge for modern mining operations as it is often present as a contaminant in mineral processing activities targeting other metals. Uranium must be removed from mining impacted waters to meet social and regulatory obligations, but despite demand from within the mining and environmental industries, a technology both specific to uranium and inexpensive is lacking. This project will develop solutions to realize uranium remediation at significantly reduced cost.
This STTR Phase I project proposes to innovate green, sugar-based glycolipids that meet several requirements, including: they selectively bind uranium; they are produced using abundant, inexpensive sugars; and they can be attached to a solid matrix for water remediation packed-bed reactor systems. Currently, synthesis of rhamnolipids is too costly because of the high cost and limited availability of its sugar component, rhamnose. The cost reduction strategy for the new glycolipids will be synthesis with the inexpensive and abundant sugars glucose, xylose, and maltose. To bring these molecules to market as commercial remediation products, the following objectives will be demonstrated: The molecules' selectivity for uranium will be verified, even in the presence of competing metal ions. Viable molecules will then be attached to a solid matrix to demonstrate and characterize uranium sorption in simple solutions. Lastly, real-world uranium-contaminated solutions from active and legacy mining sites will be tested to validate the solution. Success of the glycolipid sorbents will be gauged by their ability to remediate solutions to regulatory standards.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.