Team wins competitive DOE award to advance isotope production critical for U.S. science, medicine and industry

A U.S. Department of Energy $4 million initiative to advance research in isotope production includes a Vanderbilt engineering professor’s work on separation technologies and to scale up processes. The funding is part of a key federal program that produces critical isotopes otherwise unavailable or in short supply for U.S. science, medicine and industry.

Piran Kidambi

Piran Kidambi, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is part of a team led by Savannah River National Laboratory and Clemson University that has received a two-year, $800,000 grant—Electrochemical hydrogen isotope fractionation—fundamental insights leading to process scale up”—as part of the DOE’s funding for 10 awards across five isotope research efforts. The awards were selected on a competitive basis by peer review.

Isotopes, or variations of the same elements with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons, have unique properties that can make them useful in medical diagnostic and treatment applications. They also are important for applications in quantum information science, nuclear power, national security and more.

“Given the very minor differences in mass, or physical properties, as well as very similar chemical properties between isotopes, separation of one isotope from the other is inherently challenging,” said Kidambi. “Traditionally, this has been accomplished in energy intensive processes with potential for adverse environmental impact.” Kidambi’s proposed project aims to use fundamental understanding of a separation processes using novel membranes to enable process design and scale up for isotope separation. The team includes the lead organization Savannah River National Laboratory and Clemson University.

The award recipients include six universities and three DOE national laboratories. Most of the awards go to collaborative teams where universities and national laboratories work together. The other institutions funded include Columbia University, University of Missouri, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, and Oak Ridge and Brookhaven national laboratories.

Topics funded by the DOE include efforts to increase the availability of new cancer diagnostic and therapeutic agents to the medical community and broad improvements to isotope production and processing techniques with the goal of enhancing isotope availability and purity.

“Isotopes play an absolutely vital role in countless areas of science, medicine, industry, and even national and homeland security today,” said Jehanne Gillo, director of the DOE Isotope Program, in the DOE’s announcement. “These R&D activities will continue our efforts to ensure the availability of isotopes critical to Americans’ health, prosperity, and security that would be otherwise impossible to obtain.”

Contact: Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314