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Facile and Efficient Decontamination of Thorium from Rare Earths Based on Selective Selenite Crystallization

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journal contribution
posted on 02.02.2018, 15:46 by Yaxing Wang, Huangjie Lu, Xing Dai, Tao Duan, Xiaojing Bai, Yawen Cai, Xuemiao Yin, Lanhua Chen, Juan Diwu, Shiyu Du, Ruhong Zhou, Zhifang Chai, Thomas E. Albrecht-Schmitt, Ning Liu, Shuao Wang
The coexistence of radioactive contaminants (e.g., thorium, uranium, and their daughters) in rare earth minerals introduces significant environmental, economic, and technological hurdles in modern rare earth production. Efficient, low cost, and green decontamination strategies are therefore desired to ameliorate this problem. We report here a single-step and quantitative decontamination strategy of thorium from rare earths based on a unique periodic trend in the formation of crystalline selenite compounds across the lanthanide series, where Ce­(III) is fully oxidized in situ to Ce­(IV). This gives rise to a crystallization system that is highly selective to trap tetravalent f-blocks while all other trivalent lanthanides completely remain in solution when coexist. These results are bolstered by first-principles calculations of lattice energies and an examination of bonding in these compounds. This system is contrasted with typical natural and synthetic systems, where trivalent and tetravalent f-block elements often cocrystallize. The separation factors after one round of crystallization were determined from binary systems of Th­(IV)/La­(III), Th­(IV)/Eu­(III), and Th­(IV)/Yb­(III) to reach 2.1 × 105, 1.2 × 105, and 9 × 104, respectively. Selective crystallization of thorium from a simulated monazite composite yields a separation factor of 1.9 × 103 with nearly quantitative removal of thorium.