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Ligands on demand

Project Description

Current recycling of used nuclear fuel is based on the PUREX process; a solvent extraction process utilising tri-butyl phosphate as a ligand to extract uranium and plutonium. The next generation of recycle processes have been under development for many years and will utilise a new set of ligands that are capable of extracting more elements that are useful for nuclear fuel fabrication (e.g. neptunium, americium, and curium).
The processes of most interested in the UK are GANEX and iSANEX. The new family of ligands are linked to these are based on amide molecules.
GANEX utilises DEHiBA (N,N-di-(ethyl-2-hexyl)isobutyramide), which extracts Uranium.

This is coupled with two other ligands TODGA (N,N,N′,N′?Tetraoctyl diglycolamide) and DMDOHEMA (N,N′-Dimethyl,N,N′-dioctylhexylethoxymalonamide) which extract and then separate the actinides (specifically Am and Cm) from the lanthanides.
An alternative to DMDOHEMA being development at present is PTD (2,6-bis[1-(propan-1-ol)-1,2,3-triazol-4-y]pyridine)

Small quantities of these ligands are manufactured for R&D activities by specialist chemical synthesis labs, but to prove the viability of an industrial version of the process we need to show that we can scale up production.
The purpose of this project to investigate and optimise the manufacture of these ligands. Techniques that have been tested and proven for pharmaceutical molecules will be used. This has led to the creation of a set of self-optimising flow reactors (with machine learning feedback optimisation), installed in the iPRD laboratory at Leeds. Experiments linking these flow reactors to an initial batch reactor will be done on each of the ligands in turn to determine the best manufacture process. Then the process will be tested at larger scale using an alfa-lavel plate reactor. The effectiveness of ligands produced will be determined and compared with existing data on separation factors to show that the production route (and product) is viable.

Funding Notes

This School of Chemical & Processing Engineering studentship will provide tuition fees at £4,600, together with tax-free stipend, matching UK research council rate of £15,285.


The minimum academic requirement is 2.1 MEng or BSc (honours) undergraduate degree, or MSc with distinction in a relevant engineering or science degree.

Formal applications for research degree study should be made on-line through the university's website. Please state the PhD you wish to be considered, as well as Professor Bruce Hanson as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

How good is research at University of Leeds in General Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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