A method of extracting metals directly from metal oxides by exposing the oxide to a supercritical fluid solvent containing a chelating agent is described. Preferably, the metal is an actinide or a lanthanide. More preferably, the metal is uranium, thorium or plutonium. The chelating agent forms chelates that are soluble in the supercritical fluid, thereby allowing direct removal of the metal from the metal oxide. In preferred embodiments, the extraction solvent is supercritical carbon dioxide and the chelating agent is selected from the group consisting of .beta.-diketones, halogenated .beta.-diketones, phosphinic acids, halogenated phosphinic acids, carboxylic acids, halogenated carboxylic acids, and mixtures thereof. In especially preferred embodiments, at least one of the chelating agents is fluorinated. The method provides an environmentally benign process for removing metals from metal oxides without using acids or biologically harmful solvents. The chelate and supercritical fluid can be regenerated, and the metal recovered, to provide an economic, efficient process.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
This invention was funded in part by the United States Department of Energy under Grant No. [FAK696, Contract No. DEFG 0291ER755679A005] DE-FG02-91ER75679. The United States Government may have certain rights in this invention as a result of this grant.