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Argonne National Laboratory

Nevada

Argonne Impacts State by State

Argonne’s collaborations in Nevada and across the United States have led to groundbreaking discoveries and development of new technologies that help meet the nation’s needs for sustainable energy, economic prosperity, and security.

University of Nevada, Reno partners with Argonne to offer training in nuclear packaging

Argonne scientist Yung Liu explains the essentials of nuclear packaging to graduate students. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Nuclear packaging — used for the storage, transport and disposal of radioactive waste — is a global challenge, critical to ensuring U.S. safety and security. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno to offer DOE training courses for the university’s graduate certificate program in nuclear packaging. The unprecedented partnership leverages the resources and expertise of the DOE, national laboratories and academia.

The holistic, experience-driven program appeals to a diverse community of engineers, analysts and users in the United States and abroad. Students report that the program offers invaluable practical knowledge that permits them to immediately ramp up their skills to support the safe and secure transportation of nuclear and other radioactive materials.

The university has conducted nuclear packaging research since 1993. Four other national laboratories — Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Savannah River — have joined Argonne in the training effort. To date, 88 students have enrolled in the course; the first certificate was awarded in 2017.

Albemarle Corporation, Argonne streamline lithium extraction from brine

Brine in Nevada’s Clayton Valley may prove to be an important resource for lithium hydroxide, a key compound in electric vehicle (EV) batteries. (Image by LeQuangNhut/Shutterstock.)

As the global demand for electric vehicles continues to grow, auto manufacturers in the United States seek a domestic supply of lithium, a key component in EV batteries. In response to this increasing need, global chemicals producer Albemarle Corporation has partnered with Argonne to identify more efficient ways to produce lithium at its Silver Peak plant in southwestern Nevada.

Under a DOE grant, an Argonne/Albemarle research team is investigating processes that would streamline the commercial production of lithium hydroxide from brine resources at Albemarle’s plant in Nevada’s Clayton Valley. The Silver Peak site is said to be the only lithium-producing resource in the United States.

The team’s goal is to design a novel technology that would eliminate steps in the current state- of-the-art process by going directly from lithium chloride to lithium hydroxide. Such a technology, scientists believe, would mark a pivotal discovery in advancing green technology.

Argonne, UNLV recycle used fuel from nuclear reactors 

Researchers used 3D printers to create parts that would expedite the recycling of used fuel from nuclear reactors. (Image courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.)

Collaborating with chemist Artem V. Gelis at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Argonne researchers leveraged the flexibility of 3D printing to improve the recycling process to recover up to 97% of used fuel from nuclear reactors and extract elements with the longest half-life. Their new approach could drastically reduce the amount of used fuel stored and the time it remains hazardous.  

The first step requires separating highly radioactive actinide isotopes from the rare earth metals, or lanthanides. This step involves a novel technique called Actinide Lanthanide Separation Process (ALSEP), but researchers previously had been unable to scale ALSEP for industrial purposes. The team redesigned ALSEP using 3D printers to make devices called centrifugal contactors. Linking 20 contactors, they created a continuous ALSEP process, bridging the gap between small, lab-scale demonstrations to large, pilot-scale equipment. The printed parts are inexpensively fabricated and can be reprinted and replaced quickly in case of part failure.  

Besides expediting the separation process, the contactor design offers an added layer of protection against nuclear proliferation: Tubes connecting the contactors are buried in each module, making it difficult to access and divert radioactive materials for unlawful purposes.