Separation of the Yb/Lu lanthanide pair by ionic liquids: development of a purification methodology for medical lutetium-177

SCK•CEN Mentor

Van de Voorde Michiel,, +32 (0)14 33 31 07

Expert group


SCK•CEN Co-mentor

Cardinaels Thomas , , +32 (0)14 33 32 00


Lutetium-177 (177Lu) is a very promising radioisotope in nuclear medicine because of its beneficial decay regime (t1/2 = 6.6 days, Ebeta max = 497 keV). 177Lu radiopharmaceuticals can be applied for diagnosis (gamma emission) and treatment (beta minus emission) of tumors and metastases. A 177Lu-based radiopharmaceutical is already commercially available as 177Lu:DOTA-TATE complex (Lutathera®) for the treatment of neuroendocrine tumors. 177Lu is efficiently produced in a nuclear reactor via neutron irradiation of a highly enriched 176Yb target material, i.e. 176Yb(n, gamma)177Yb. Subsequent beta minus decay of 177Yb delivers the intended 177Lu isotope. However, the irradiated material will still mainly consist of 176Yb and 177Lu is only present in low concentrations. Therefore, 177Lu must be isolated from the target material before it can be used in radiopharmaceuticals. Leftover 176Yb can be re-used as target material for 177Lu production. However, efficient separation of Lu from Yb is challenging because the two neighboring lanthanides have very similar chemical properties.



The objective of this master thesis project is to develop a separation method to produce high purity 177Lu. An innovative route to separate Yb and Lu making use of supported ionic liquid phases (SILPs) will be investigated. At first, a suitable system will be developed by using bulk ionic liquids (ILs) in batch solvent extraction (SX) experiments, with or without the addition of an extractant. Solvometallurgical techniques might also be explored. After immobilization of the IL phase onto a solid support, either chemically or physically, batch extraction and column separation experiments will be conducted. The separation methods will be developed by using stable isotopes and conventional analysis techniques (e.g. ICP-MS). Promising potential separation methods can be further tested using radiotracers and radioanalytical techniques (e.g. gamma spectrometry).

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

Professional bachelor , Academic bachelor

The candidate needs to have a background in


Estimated duration

The students is expected to be in Mol for at least 4 months, 6 months would be optimal to complete the full project