Multicomponent Model for the Prediction of Nuclear Waste/Rare-Earth Extraction Processes

We develop a minimal model for the prediction of solvent extraction. We consider a rare earth extraction system for which the solvent phase is similar to water-poor microemulsions. All physical molecular quantities used in the calculation can be measured separately. The model takes into account competition complexation, mixing entropy of complexed species, differences of salt concentrations between the two phases, and the surfactant nature of extractant molecules. We consider the practical case where rare earths are extracted from iron nitrates in the presence of acids with a common neutral complexing extractant. The solvent wetting of the reverse aggregates is taken into account via the spontaneous packing. All the water-in-oil reverse aggregates are supposed to be spherical on average. The minimal model captures several features observed in practice: reverse aggregates with different water and extractant content coexist dynamically with monomeric extractant molecules at and above a critical aggregate concentration (CAC). The CAC decreases upon the addition of electrolytes in the aqueous phase. The free energy of transfer of an ion to the organic phase is lower than the driving complexation. The commonly observed log–log relation used to determine the apparent stoichiometry of complexation is valid as a guideline but should be used with care. The results point to the fact that stoichiometry, as well as the probabilities of a particular aggregate, is dependent on the composition of the entire system, namely the extractant and the target solutes’ concentrations. Moreover, the experimentally observed dependence of the extraction efficiency on branching of the extractant chains in a given solvent can be quantified. The evolution of the distribution coefficient of particular rare earth, acid, or other different metallic cations can be studied as a function of initial extractant concentration through the whole region that is typically used by chemical engineers. For every chemical species involved in the calculation, the model is able to predict the exact equilibrium concentration in both the aqueous and the solvent phases at a given thermodynamic temperature.