Nanoscale mechanism of UO2 formation through uranium reduction by magnetite.
ABSTRACT: Uranium (U) is a ubiquitous element in the Earth's crust at ~2 ppm. In anoxic environments, soluble hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) is reduced and immobilized. The underlying reduction mechanism is unknown but likely of critical importance to explain the geochemical behavior of U. Here, we tackle the mechanism of reduction of U(VI) by the mixed-valence iron oxide, magnetite. Through high-end spectroscopic and microscopic tools, we demonstrate that the reduction proceeds first through surface-associated U(VI) to form pentavalent U, U(V). U(V) persists on the surface of magnetite and is further reduced to tetravalent UO2 as nanocrystals (~1-2?nm) with random orientations inside nanowires. Through nanoparticle re-orientation and coalescence, the nanowires collapse into ordered UO2 nanoclusters. This work provides evidence for a transient U nanowire structure that may have implications for uranium isotope fractionation as well as for the molecular-scale understanding of nuclear waste temporal evolution and the reductive remediation of uranium contamination.
Project description:Historically, it is believed that crystalline uraninite, produced via the abiotic reduction of hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) is the dominant reduced U species formed in low-temperature uranium roll-front ore deposits. Here we show that non-crystalline U(IV) generated through biologically mediated U(VI) reduction is the predominant U(IV) species in an undisturbed U roll-front ore deposit in Wyoming, USA. Characterization of U species revealed that the majority (?58-89%) of U is bound as U(IV) to C-containing organic functional groups or inorganic carbonate, while uraninite and U(VI) represent only minor components. The uranium deposit exhibited mostly 238U-enriched isotope signatures, consistent with largely biotic reduction of U(VI) to U(IV). This finding implies that biogenic processes are more important to uranium ore genesis than previously understood. The predominance of a relatively labile form of U(IV) also provides an opportunity for a more economical and environmentally benign mining process, as well as the design of more effective post-mining restoration strategies and human health-risk assessment.
Project description:Thin films of the elusive intermediate uranium oxide U2O5 have been prepared by exposing UO3 precursor multilayers to atomic hydrogen. Electron photoemission spectra measured about the uranium 4f core-level doublet contain sharp satellites separated by 7.9(1) eV from the 4f main lines, whilst satellites characteristics of the U(IV) and U(VI) oxidation states, expected respectively at 6.9(1) and 9.7(1) eV from the main 4f lines, are absent. This shows that uranium ions in the films are in a pure pentavalent oxidation state, in contrast to previous investigations of binary oxides claiming that U(V) occurs only as a metastable intermediate state coexisting with U(IV) and U(VI) species. The ratio between the 5f valence band and 4f core-level uranium photoemission intensities decreases by about 50% from UO2 to U2O5, which is consistent with the 5f?2 (UO2) and 5f?1 (U2O5) electronic configurations of the initial state. Our studies conclusively establish the stability of uranium pentoxide.
Project description:Penta-ammine dioxide uranium(V) nitrate ammonia (1/1), [UO2(NH3)5]NO3·NH3, was obtained in the form of yellow crystals from the reaction of caesium uranyl nitrate, Cs[UO2(NO3)3], and uranium tetra-fluoride, UF4, in dry liquid ammonia. The [UO2]+ cation is coordinated by five ammine ligands. The resulting [UO2(NH3)5] coordination polyhedron is best described as a penta-gonal bipyramid with the O atoms forming the apices. In the crystal, numerous N-H?N and N-H?O hydrogen bonds are present between the cation, anion and solvent mol-ecules, leading to a three-dimensional network.
Project description:The in situ stimulation of Fe(III) oxide reduction by Geobacter bacteria leads to the concomitant precipitation of hexavalent uranium [U(VI)] from groundwater. Despite its promise for the bioremediation of uranium contaminants, the biological mechanism behind this reaction remains elusive. Because Fe(III) oxide reduction requires the expression of Geobacter's conductive pili, we evaluated their contribution to uranium reduction in Geobacter sulfurreducens grown under pili-inducing or noninducing conditions. A pilin-deficient mutant and a genetically complemented strain with reduced outer membrane c-cytochrome content were used as controls. Pili expression significantly enhanced the rate and extent of uranium immobilization per cell and prevented periplasmic mineralization. As a result, pili expression also preserved the vital respiratory activities of the cell envelope and the cell's viability. Uranium preferentially precipitated along the pili and, to a lesser extent, on outer membrane redox-active foci. In contrast, the pilus-defective strains had different degrees of periplasmic mineralization matching well with their outer membrane c-cytochrome content. X-ray absorption spectroscopy analyses demonstrated the extracellular reduction of U(VI) by the pili to mononuclear tetravalent uranium U(IV) complexed by carbon-containing ligands, consistent with a biological reduction. In contrast, the U(IV) in the pilin-deficient mutant cells also required an additional phosphorous ligand, in agreement with the predominantly periplasmic mineralization of uranium observed in this strain. These findings demonstrate a previously unrecognized role for Geobacter conductive pili in the extracellular reduction of uranium, and highlight its essential function as a catalytic and protective cellular mechanism that is of interest for the bioremediation of uranium-contaminated groundwater.
Project description:The reduction of soluble hexavalent uranium to tetravalent uranium can be catalyzed by bacteria and minerals. The end-product of this reduction is often the mineral uraninite, which was long assumed to be the only product of U(VI) reduction. However, recent studies report the formation of other species including an adsorbed U(IV) species, operationally referred to as monomeric U(IV). The discovery of monomeric U(IV) is important because the species is likely to be more labile and more susceptible to reoxidation than uraninite. Because there is a need to distinguish between these two U(IV) species, we propose here a wet chemical method of differentiating monomeric U(IV) from uraninite in environmental samples. To calibrate the method, U(IV) was extracted from known mixtures of uraninite and monomeric U(IV) and tested using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). Monomeric U(IV) was efficiently removed from biomass and Fe(II)-bearing phases by bicarbonate extraction, without affecting uraninite stability. After confirming that the method effectively separates monomeric U(IV) and uraninite, it is further evaluated for a system containing those reduced U species and adsorbed U(VI). The method provides a rapid complement, and in some cases alternative, to XAS analyses for quantifying monomeric U(IV), uraninite, and adsorbed U(VI) species in environmental samples.
Project description:Knowledge of paleo-redox conditions in the Earth's history provides a window into events that shaped the evolution of life on our planet. The role of microbial activity in paleo-redox processes remains unexplored due to the inability to discriminate biotic from abiotic redox transformations in the rock record. The ability to deconvolute these two processes would provide a means to identify environmental niches in which microbial activity was prevalent at a specific time in paleo-history and to correlate specific biogeochemical events with the corresponding microbial metabolism. Here, we demonstrate that the isotopic signature associated with microbial reduction of hexavalent uranium (U), i.e., the accumulation of the heavy isotope in the U(IV) phase, is readily distinguishable from that generated by abiotic uranium reduction in laboratory experiments. Thus, isotope signatures preserved in the geologic record through the reductive precipitation of uranium may provide the sought-after tool to probe for biotic processes. Because uranium is a common element in the Earth's crust and a wide variety of metabolic groups of microorganisms catalyze the biological reduction of U(VI), this tool is applicable to a multiplicity of geological epochs and terrestrial environments. The findings of this study indicate that biological activity contributed to the formation of many authigenic U deposits, including sandstone U deposits of various ages, as well as modern, Cretaceous, and Archean black shales. Additionally, engineered bioremediation activities also exhibit a biotic signature, suggesting that, although multiple pathways may be involved in the reduction, direct enzymatic reduction contributes substantially to the immobilization of uranium.
Project description:The stimulation of bacterial activities that convert hexavalent uranium, U(VI), to tetravalent uranium, U(IV), appears to be feasible for cost-effective remediation of contaminated aquifers. However, U(VI) reduction typically results in the precipitation of U(IV) particles less than 5 nanometers in diameter, except for environmental conditions enriched with iron. Because these tiny particles are mobile and susceptible to oxidative dissolution after the termination of nutrient injection, in situ bioremediation remains to be impractical. Here we show that U(IV) nanoparticles of coffinite (U(SiO4)1-x(OH)4x) formed in fracture-filling calcium carbonate in a granitic aquifer. In situ U-Pb isotope dating demonstrates that U(IV) nanoparticles have been sequestered in the calcium carbonate for at least 1 million years. As the microbiologically induced precipitation of calcium carbonate in aquifer systems worldwide is extremely common, we anticipate simultaneous stimulation of microbial activities for precipitation reactions of calcium carbonate and U(IV) nanoparticles, which leads to long-term sequestration of uranium and other radionuclides in contaminated aquifers and deep geological repositories.
Project description:Biochar (BC) and magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoparticles (MNP) have both received considerable recent attention in part due to their potential use in water treatment. While both are effective independently in the removal of a range of anionic metals from aqueous solution, the efficacy of these materials is reduced considerably at neutral pH due to decreased metal adsorption and MNP aggregation. In addition to synthetic metal oxide-biochar composites for use in treatment and remediation technologies, aggregates may also occur in nature when pyrolytic carbon is deposited in soils. In this study, we tested whether magnetite synthesized in the presence of biochar leads to increased removal efficiency of hexavalent chromium, Cr(VI), at the mildly acidic to neutral pH values characteristic of most natural and contaminated aqueous environments. To do so, magnetite nanoparticles and biochar produced from ground willow were synthesized to form composites (MNP-BC). Batch studies showed that MNP-BC markedly enhanced both adsorption and reduction of Cr(VI) from aqueous solution at acidic to neutral pH as compared to MNP and BC separately, suggesting a strong synergetic effect of hybridizing Fe3O4 with BC. Mechanistically, the Cr(VI) removal processes occurred through both adsorption and intraparticle diffusion followed by reduction to Cr(III). Synchrotron-based X-ray absorption spectroscopy analyses confirmed that Cr(VI) was reduced at the surface of MNP-BC, with electrons derived directly from both biochar and magnetite at low pH, while at near-neutral pH, biochar increased Cr(VI) reduction by inhibiting MNP aggregation. Extended X-ray absorption fine structure fitting results confirmed that the Cr(III) precipitates consist of Cr(OH)3 and chromite (Cr2FeO4) nanoparticles. Our results demonstrate that MNP-BC composites have great potential as a material for the treatment of chromate-containing aqueous solutions across a wide range of pH values, and provide information valuable broadly relevant to soils and sediments that contain biochar.
Project description:The development of functional materials for the highly efficient capture of radionuclides, such as uranium from nuclear waste solutions, is an important and challenging topic. Here, few-layered N, P, and S codoped graphene-like carbon nanosheets (NPS-GLCs) that are fabricated in the 2D confined spacing of silicate RUB-15 and applied as sorbents to remove U(VI)ions from aqueous solutions are presented. The NPS-GLCs exhibit a large capacity, wide pH suitability, an ultrafast removal rate, stability at high ionic strengths, and excellent selectivity for U(VI) as compared to multiple competing metal ions. The 2D ultrathin structure of NPS-GLCs with large spacing of 1 nm not only assures the rapid mass diffusion, but also exposes a sufficient active site for the adsorption. Strong covalent bonds such as P-O-U and S-O-U are generated between the heteroatom (N, P, S) with UO2 2+ according to X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy analysis and density functional theory theoretical calculations. This work highlights the interaction mechanism of low oxidation state heteroatoms with UO2 2+, thereby shedding light on the material design of uranium immobilization in the pollution cleanup of radionuclides.
Project description:The chemical stability of biogenic UO2, a nanoparticulate product of environmental bioremediation, may be impacted by the particles' surface free energy, structural defects, and compositional variability in analogy to abiotic UO(2+x) (0 < or = x < or = 0.25). This study quantifies and compares intrinsic solubility and dissolution rate constants of biogenic nano-UO2 and synthetic bulk UO2.00, taking molecular-scale structure into account. Rates were determined under anoxic conditions as a function of pH and dissolved inorganic carbon in continuous-flow experiments. The dissolution rates of biogenic and synthetic UO2 solids were lowest at near neutral pH and increased with decreasing pH. Similar surface area-normalized rates of biogenic and synthetic UO2 suggest comparable reactive surface site densities. This finding is consistent with the identified structural homology of biogenic UO2 and stoichiometric UO2.00 Compared to carbonate-free anoxic conditions, dissolved inorganic carbon accelerated the dissolution rate of biogenic UO2 by 3 orders of magnitude. This phenomenon suggests continuous surface oxidation of U(IV) to U(VI), with detachment of U(VI) as the rate-determining step in dissolution. Although reducing conditions were maintained throughout the experiments, the UO2 surface can be oxidized by water and radiogenic oxidants. Even in anoxic aquifers, UO2 dissolution may be controlled by surface U(VI) rather than U(IV) phases.