NewChem Products, a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation’s nuclear cluster, has been awarded a grant of 47.7 million rubles ($800,000) from the foundation to develop a process for producing anhydrous hydrogen fluoride (AHF) from depleted uranium hexafluoride.

As well as ending dependence on fluorite imports, NewChem Products' technology for producing AHF would solve the environmental challenge of storing depleted uranium hexafleoride. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The St. Petersburg-based company has already proven that the highly efficient technology works, having developed a laboratory facility in 2015 with support from Skolkovo to successfully carry out R&D, said Igor Karavaev, head of the Skolkovo Foundation’s nuclear cluster.

“Now the company’s goal is to launch the technology on a commercial scale. The plan is to build a pilot facility at Siberian Chemical Enterprise to test the AHF production technology based on depleted uranium hexafluoride,” said Karavaev.

AHF is the basic source for the production of all fluorine compounds for industrial purposes, such as halocarbons, fluoropolymers, extinguishers, electronic gases, isotope enrichment elements, gaseous and liquid dielectrics, and antifriction and bioactive agents.

The annual output of AHF is up to 1.5 million tons, of which 70 percent is currently produced in China. Modern industry has succeeded in mastering only one AHF production technique, based on high-quality natural fluorite. In Russia, fluorite reserves are scarce, and it is imported from Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

In recent years, fluorite prices have been continuously growing. If this trend persists, Russia may become strategically dependent on fluorite supplies, making it crucial to develop an AHF production technology based on other fluorine-containing materials.

There are more than 2 million tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride in the world, with a fluorine content of around 30 percent. Using it as a source for producing AHF through fluorine regeneration would not only end dependence on fluorite suppliers, it would also close the nuclear fuel fluorine cycle and eliminate the serious environmental challenge presented by the storage of depleted uranium hexafluoride, says NewChem Products.