Researchers at Murdoch University in Australia have discovered a new technique that can be used to extract uranium from waste product brannerite.
The latest technology is expected to boost extraction by up to 15%, which could contribute $108m per annum in added value to the industry.
According to researchers, the technique can produce results for mining companies within two to three years.
PhD candidate Rorie Gilligan said: "In recent decades, the assumption has been that brannerite can’t be processed, so, when I told other metallurgists I was out to test that belief, the typical response was ‘good luck with that’."
"I dug into the archives and ended up finding a number of basically forgotten papers from the 1950s and 60s exploring brannerite extraction, which gave us a starting point for testing our own ideas in the lab."
The research is being carried out as part of an ongoing project at Murdoch’s School of Engineering and Information Technology, headed by Dr Aleks Nikoloski.
It is aimed at understanding uranium extraction, considered one of the most challenging processes in the field due to its complex geology.
Gilligan has been running trials on pure brannerite specimens, as well as on mixed mineral conditions that are likely to occur in natural deposits, over the past three years.
Gilligan added: "By gaining a better understanding of the chemical processes involved in leaching brannerite, we’ve found a mechanism that works under relatively mild conditions, without the need for high acid concentrations or extreme heats."
Image: Researchers say that the new technique can produce good results for mining companies. Photo: courtesy of Murdoch University.