Researchers want to use shrimp shells to extract uranium from the ocean

Researchers want to use shrimp shells to extract uranium

For many, there's no better combination than a steaming bowl of fresh shrimp, some hot butter and a fat wedge of lemon. Now, researchers have found another use for crustaceans: using their shells to harvest uranium from the ocean.

Discovered in 1789 by the German chemist Martin Klaproth, uranium is today used in nuclear power plants around the world. From Canada to Kazakhstan, mines are extracting it on a large scale.

In the United States, bright minds have come up with a novel way to extract it from the ocean using mats made from chitin, which is found in the shells of shrimps, other crustaceans and insects. These mats are transparent and can be placed underwater to "withdraw" uranium.

"We've found that we could selectively extract a useful polymer called chitin directly from shrimp shells, and that we could modify this into a sorbent that would allow us to obtain uranium directly from the ocean," Robin Rogers, president of 525 Solutions, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

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525 Solutions was spun out of research conducted at the University of Alabama. In 2014, the start-up was boosted when the Department of Energy awarded it around $1.5 million in funding.

Rogers added that the potential of the work he and his team were undertaking was considerable with regards to uranium extraction.

"Of course the ocean is really big, so it's dilute, but there's no question that the amount of uranium in the ocean could satisfy mankind's needs for nuclear power for many, many generations to come."