The research team from the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have successfully increased the recycling of a important medical isotope by using 3D printed parts. Thanks to the newly additive manufactured parts, the laboratory’s original recycling process can now be much faster, more reliable and keeps the costs down, allowing this method to potentially one day be used on an industrial scale.
This project was led by Mo-99 program manager Peter Tkac, whose team first discovered the recycling of enriched molybdenum.
Molybdenum, also known as Mo-99, is used by radiologists to detect and diagnose heart disease, bone decay and many rare cancers. Enriched molybdenum is very vital for the manufacturing of Mo-99; however, it costs about $1,000 a gram to procure. Mo-99 manufacturers have been unable to cost-effectively recycle enriched molybdenum on a larger scale. Now, thanks to Peter Tkac and his team of researchers, they’ve created a new 3D printing device to increase the efficiency of the recycling process. It also allows producers to yield more Mo-99 from their expensive enriched molybdenum reserves.
In the original process, the team turned the used enriched molybdenum, as well as using a mixture of different chemicals, into an acidic solution. The enriched molybdenum would then be improved in many stages by using different funnels and test tubes, which turn out to be a very dull process.
One year later, Tkac began working with Peter Kozak, a fellow scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. Working together, they worked together to automate the process. The funnels and test tubes used to hold and transfer the corrosive chemicals were replaced with 3D printed contractors. It was thanks to these contractors that it made the recycling process much faster and more cost-efficient.
Kozak explained saying quote, “We printed each contactor as one piece with streamlined features and fewer external connections,” “This allows us to push the liquid through the system as quickly and reliably as possible.
Peter Tkac and his team did eventually decide to use polyether ether ketone (PEEK), a chemical best known for its chemical resistance. However, when the team tried to make the 3D printed PEEK contractors, the material would shrink during the fabrication process, which resulted in the print being warped. To fix this, the team altered the printer’s fan speeds and temperatures, and as a result, they were able to 3D print the PEEK contractors that were stronger and more flexible than the previous prints. This helped create a much quicker and more cost-effective enriched molybdenum recycling system being able to withstand the harsh chemical conditions over long periods of time.