Technology Profile

Shaikh performing x-ray absorption spectroscopy with equipment

Researchers at the University of New Mexico and University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (SRP) centers created an improved electrospun nanofiber technology to detect uranium in contaminated water. Electrospinning is a technique that uses polymer solutions and strong electric fields to produce nano-sized fibers.

The nanofibers have a high surface to volume ratio and porosity, making them effective in the uptake of environmental contaminants. To assess the technology's effectiveness under environmentally relevant conditions, the researchers tested the nanofibers in water samples that included the ions that make up calcium carbonate, one of the most abundant minerals in the Earth's crust.

According to the scientists, the presence of calcium carbonate inhibited uranium uptake for remediation purposes, but their technology could be an effective environmental sensing tool.

This collaborative project was made possible through a 2019 K.C. Donnelly Externship Supplement Award given to Nabil Shaikh, Ph.D., a former University of New Mexico SRP Center trainee who traveled to the University of Iowa SRP Center to learn electrospinning techniques.

Technology The researchers developed and optimized phosphonate functionalized electrospun nanofibers that can be used to uptake uranium from contaminated waters. These new materials, functionalized with HDPA, were successful in the selective uptake of uranium in the experiments except for in the presence of calcium carbonate.
This material is appropriate for sensing uranium in matrixes that contain environmentally-relevant concentrations of calcium carbonate.
Innovation Researchers created electrospun nanofibers made of a phosphonate polymer, hexadecylphosphonate (HDPA), which promotes effective uptake of uranium as it supports binding over a wide pH range. This new technology will prevent uranium exposures by sensing uranium concentrations in contaminated waters, say the authors.
Contaminant and Media Uranium in water
Technology Readiness Level TRL 4: Component validated in laboratory environment
Principal Investigator Jose Cerrato , Keri Hornbuckle
Institution University of New Mexico, University of Iowa
Grant Number P42ES022589 , P42ES013661
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