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Simplified targetry and separation chemistry for 68Ge production

a,1 a a a
H.F. Valdovinos , S. Graves , T. Barnhart , R.J. Nickles
Medical Physics Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison WI, USA

Introduction molten gallium with nickel. The details for each

Ge-68 (t1/2= 270.8 d, 100% EC) is an important method are as follows:
radionuclide for two reasons: 1) once in equilib- A) The electrolytic solution is made by dis-
rium with its daughter nuclide Ga (t1/2= 68 min, solving Ga2O3 (99.9%, Aldrich) and NiSO46H2O
89% , 3% 1077 keV ), it can be used as a posi- (99%, Sigma-Aldrich), in a 3:2 mass ratio, in
tron source for attenuation correction and cali- (27%) H2SO4 (Fisher, >99.99% trace metal grade),
bration of PET/MRI scanners; and 2) it can be adjusting the pH to 1.5 using concentrated
employed as a generator of Ga for radiophar- NH4OH (Sigma-Aldrich, >99.99% trace metal
maceutical preparation. grade). This solution is then transferred into
Ge-68 is produced using natural gallium either a 18 or 50 mL electrolytic cell in which the
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(60.1% Ga, 39.9% Ga) as target material for cathode is a gold disk (0.61 mm thick, 1.9 cm
proton bombardment at energies >11.5 MeV, diameter) mounted on an aluminum plate. The
69 68
the threshold energy for Ga(p,2n) Ge . Galli- electroplated area is 1.3 cm . A platinum wire is
um targetry, however, is challenging due to its used as the anode, with the tip bent into a spiral
low melting point (39C) and corrosivity towards shape in order to have a more homogeneous
most metals. Niobium, however, does not react electric field. A DC power supply (EXTECH
with liquid gallium at a temperature < 400 C [1], 382200) provides the voltage. The applied cur-
and this is why large-scale production of Ge is
68 rent was 39 9 mA/cm (n = 12) with the plati-
carried out by irradiating water-cooled targets num anode at 1 cm from the gold surface.
made of gallium encapsulated in niobium con- One of the electroplated targets was heated
tainers [2, 3], albeit niobiums low thermal con- at 400 C for 15 min in an argon atmosphere to
ductivity, that is about a quarter of that of alu- verify that the melting point of the alloy was
minum, 54 vs 235 W/mK at room temperature. indeed higher than this temperature.
Hence, gallium-based compounds with higher B) Gallium pellets (99.99999%, ~650
melting points and no corrosivity, such as Ga2O3 mg/pellet, Alfa Aesar) were mixed together with
(mp = 1900C) [4, 5] or NixGay alloys (mp > Ni powder (99.9%, Strem Chemicals) in a 4:1
800C) [6, 7], have been used as target com- Ga:Ni molar ratio inside a test tube (1 cm I.D.),
pounds. The latter one being preferred for tar- which was then positioned on top of a crucible
getry applications due to its electric and thermal at the center of an induction furnace (EIA Power
conductivity properties. Cube 45/900, average reactive power = 45
The separation chemistry technique em- kVAR). The two metals fused together after ~2
ployed by large-scale production facilities is min with the furnace set to 45% maximum pow-
liquid-liquid extraction using CCl4 [3, 5], a solvent er. The metal mixture was left in the inductor
classified as Q3C class 1 by the USA Food and under this power setting for > 15 min to let the
Drug Administration (FDA), not recommended alloy homogenize or anneal, as it is claimed that
for drug manufacturing due to unacceptable the induced currents have a stirring action over
toxicity. Hence, alternative radiochemical sepa- the alloy material [6]. After this, the alloy pellet
ration methods that employ nontoxic reagents was left to gradually cool down by lowering the
but maintain high separation yields are needed. power of the inductor in 5% steps every one
In this work, two simple methods for NixGay minute until the inductor was turned off. The
alloy preparation are presented as well as a resulting alloy pellet was then rolled to a foil
simple germanium separation procedure, with a using a jewelers mill pressed between Nb foils
separation efficiency of 75% in 2 mL of diluted to avoid contamination.
HNO3, using a commercially available extraction As with the electroplated alloy, a fused alloy
resin. was heated to 400 C for ~15 min in an argon
atmosphere. In this case, however, the foil was
Material and Methods placed on top of a silver disk in order to verify
that it is not corrosive in contact with this metal,
NixGay alloy targets were prepared by two and thus to know whether it can be irradiated if
methods: A) electrodeposition and B) by mixing directly placed on top of this excellent heat

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conductor having water-jet cooling applied on trap and release sequence, which is summa-
the opposite side. rized in Figure 4, was as follows:
Following method B), alloys with Ga:Ni molar 1. Load the target solution with an HNO3
ratios of 1.0, 2.0, 2.9, 3.7 and 5.2 were manufac- concentration > 8 M to trap Ge.
tured to be used as standards for the analysis of 2. Wash the column with 5 mL of concen-
the electroplated ones by x-ray fluorescence trated HNO3.
109 68
(XRF) spectroscopy using a Cd excitation 3. Elute Ge in fractions of 200 L of deion-
source (23 keV) and quantifying the characteris- ized water.
tic x-rays peaks 9.26 keV and 7.48 keV from Ga A separation profile for Ge, Ga and Co was
and Ni, respectively, using a low energy high obtained by collecting 0.2 1.0 mL fractions
purity germanium (HPGe) detector (Canberra throughout the separation process, which were
GL0110P). analyzed by gamma ray spectroscopy using an
Target irradiations were performed on a GE HPGe detector (Canberra C1519).
PETtrace with 16 and 15.2 MeV protons on the The radionuclidic purity of the isolated Ge
electroplated and fused targets, respectively. was determined by gamma ray spectroscopy on
The electroplated alloys were mounted on a a sample composed of the first five 200 L frac-
custom-made solid target irradiation system tions (1 mL). This sample with ~2.95 MBq (79.6
with direct water-jet cooling applied to the Ci) of Ge was placed at 1 m from the face of
backside of the gold disk, a schematic of which is the HPGe detector, having a deadtime < 10%,
shown in Figure 1. The alloy foils were placed on where an efficiency calibration with Cs and
top of in a 1.2 cm diameter, 406 m deep pocket Co NIST-traceable standards (Amersham) had
made of niobium, to avoid corrosion, and sealed been performed. The gamma lines used to quan-
against a 51 m Nb foil using a teflon O-ring, as tify the yields and radionuclidic impurities were:
68 68 57
shown in Figure 2. These Nb-encapsulated alloys 1077 keV ( Ge/ Ga), 122 keV ( Co) and 1115
were placed on the same solid target irradiation keV ( Zn).
system used with the electroplated alloys, also An electroplated alloy (82.7 mg/cm thick)
having water-jet cooling applied on the back- was processed in a cold run, that is, without
side, as shown in Figure 3. Only one thick NiGa4 irradiation, for trace metal analysis using Ag-
foil (409.5 mg/cm = 635 m) and one thick elec- ilents microwave plasma atomic emission spec-
troplated NiGa3 alloy (245.3 mg/cm = 375 m) troscopy (MP-AES) system. The separation fac-
have been irradiated for Ge production. tors (SF) for each of the main metal impurities
The irradiations were carried out over sever- was calculated by dividing the total mass of each
al days, increasing the proton current by 5 A in the target dissolution over the mass in the 2
each day, the initial current being 15 and 20 A mL eluate that contains the separated Ge.
for the fused and electroplated targets, respec-
tively. The integrity of the targets was verified Results and Conclusion
between irradiations by visual inspection to Table 1 summarizes the electroplating results.
determine if higher currents were feasible. Using the 50 mL cell, a deposited layer that is
Ge separation was achieved based on the dif- 2
245.3 mg/cm (375 m) was obtained after two
ference in distribution coefficients between Ge, electroplating runs over the same disk, each run
Ga, Zn, Cu, Ni and Co at different HNO3 molari- being 6 days long. Figure 5 shows the typical
ties in DGA resin (branched 50-100 m, Triskem macroscopic and microscopic appearance of the
International) [9]. The irradiated NiGa alloys electroplated NiGa alloys, demonstrating the
were left to decay for 2 weeks in order to signifi- homogeneity and smoothness of the deposit.
cantly reduce the co-produced radionuclidic The electroplated target did not melt and
69 55
impurities Ge (t1/2 = 39.05 h) and Co (t1/2 = looked intact under 10x magnification on an
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17.53 h) from Ga(p,n) and Ni(p,), respective- optical microscope after heating it at 400 C,
ly, and then dissolved in 6 mL of concentrated which indicated that this alloy was indeed going
HNO3 (Ultra grade, VWR). The solution was then to sustain high power irradiations. Heating the
passed through 200 mg of DGA resin packed in a fused alloy at 400 C on top of a silver disk, on
5 mm diameter column (SPE 1.5 mL reservoir, the other hand, resulted in visible spots of cor-
Grace Davison Discovery Sciences) at a constant rosion on the silver surface, indicating that small
flow rate of 1.1 mL/min using a peristaltic pump heterogeneities exist in the alloy, in which pure
(Welco). The packed resin is previously rinsed gallium had not fused with nickel. This result
with 1 mL of deionized water and then equili- demonstrated that even though the fused alloys
brated with 1 mL of concentrated HNO3. The have a high melting point, they are not homoge-

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nous enough to ensure that the solid target The gamma spectroscopy analysis revealed
station components will not be corroded by that the main radionuclidic impurity in the sepa-
traces of pure gallium that could potentially rated fraction is Zn (t1/2 = 243.93 d) from
come into contact with them. For this reason Ga(p,n), which accounts for <0.1% of the total
these alloys were encapsulated in niobium for activity in the eluted fraction.
irradiation. The results from the trace metal analysis are
From the XRF spectroscopy analysis a linear summarized in Table 4.
relationship with an R =0.967 was found be- In conclusion, we have developed two simple
tween the ratio of count rates of the Ga and Ni methods for the manufacture of thick NiGa al-
characteristic x-rays peaks to the alloy Ga:Ni loys. The best method for targetry applications is
molar ratio, from which the molar ratio compo- via electrodeposition of NiGa3 on a gold disk,
sition of the electroplated alloy was determined which we believe is a more convenient target for
as 3:1, Ga:Ni. This result was confirmed by trace Ge production compared to gallium encapsu-
metal analysis of a dissolved target using the lated in niobium. The separation method based
MP-AES system, obtaining 2.9 0.2, Ga:Ni. on the extraction resin DGA offers a 75% Ge
These results indicate that the molecular formu- separation yield that is similar to the one from
la of this alloy is NiGa3. liquid-liquid extraction employed by most large-
A simulation of 16 MeV protons over NiGa3 scale production facilities. We believe this is a
material, using the SRIM (Stopping and Range of more convenient separation method since it
Ions in Matter) software [8] software, indicates only requires a single trap-and-release step
that a thick target for Ge production needs to and not many extraction steps. Furthermore,
be at least 330 m (216 mg/cm ) thick, a thick- this method avoids the use of toxic solvents such
ness that has been achieved using the 50 mL cell as CCl4 not recommended for drug manufactur-
as shown in Table 1. ing by the FDA.
Different from the fused alloys, the electro-
plated NiGa3 targets are not corrosive against 18 mL cell 50 mL cell
the solid target station. Therefore, niobium Electrodeposition time
31 6
components with low thermal conductivity are per run [days]
not required. In fact, the gold substrate of the Deposited mass per
2 34.2 4.9 123.4 12.5
electroplated targets acts as an excellent heat run [mg/cm ]
Maximum thickness
conductor for water-cooling during irradiation 2
[mg/cm ] 83.1 10.9 245.3
due to golds outstanding thermal conductivity
(Number of sequential (3) (2)
of 320 W/mK. The irradiation parameters and runs)
results are summarized in Table 2. As can be
TABLE 1. Electrodeposition results
seen, a current of 40 A is feasible.
Table 3 shows the results from the irradia-
Irradiation Imax Q Yield [kBq/Ah]
tion experiment on a NiGa4 alloy. After the first day [A] [Ah]
irradiation with a current of 20 A for ~5 h, the 1 20 50
target looked intact. Hence, the following day 2 25 24
the proton current was increased to 25 A and 3 30 56
the target was irradiated for 3.4 h. Visual inspec- 4 35 70
tion of the target revealed that the niobium 5 40 60 43 1.3
degrader had reacted with traces of molten TABLE 2. Irradiation parameters and yields after
gallium from the alloy, which means that the proton bombardment on NiGa3 electroplated on
temperature at this spot was > 400 C, the point gold.
at which gallium and niobium react [1]. The
niobium degrader was replaced after this bom- Irradiation Imax Q Yield [kBq/Ah]
68 65
bardment, and a maximum current of 22 A was day [A] [Ah] Ge Zn
applied for ~3 h for a total charge of 65 Ah, 1 20 100
after which the target looked intact. Therefore, 2 25 85
22 A is the maximum current that can be ap- 3 22 65 44 1.8
plied to this target system without compromis- TABLE 3. Irradiation parameters and yields after
ing the integrity of the degrader. proton bombardment on a NiGa4 foil encapsu-
Figure 6 contains the separation profile and lated in Nb.
Figure 7 the elution profile with DGA resin. 75%
of the Ge produced at end of bombardment is
eluted in 2 mL of deionized water.

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Ga Fe Zn Ni Co Cu
ppm 41 19 5.0 3.1 0.23 0.23
mM 0.59 0.76 0.077 0.053 0.004 0.0040
g 82 80 10.1 6.2 0.5 0.46
SF 770 570 10 2900 990 1200
(a) (b) (c)
TABLE 4. Metal impurities in the 2 mL Ge eluate. FIGURE 5. (a) Macroscopic appearance of NiGa
electroplated over a gold disk and microscopic
appearance from an optical microscope using (b)
4x and (c) 10x magnification.

FIGURE 1. Schematic of the electroplated NiGa

targets mounted on the solid target station of
our GE PETtrace cyclotron.

FIGURE 6. Separation profile of Ge, Ga and Co in

DGA resin

FIGURE 2. Drawing of the Nb pocket for encapsu-

lating the fused NiGa foils.

FIGURE 7. Elution profile of Ge trapped in DGA.

[1] Arzumanov AA, Alexandrenko VV, Borisenko AR,
Ignatenko DN, Koptev VK, Lyssukhin SN, et al.
FIGURE 3. Schematic of the fused alloy targets Technique for irradiation of Nb-Ga targets at
mounted on the cyclotrons solid target station. Kazakhstan isochronous cyclotron. Cyclotrons and
their applications 2004 Proceedings of the
seventeenth international conference. Japan; 2005, p.
[2] Meinken GE, Kurczak S, Mausner LF, Kolsky KL, and
Srivastava SC. Production of high specific activity 68Ge
at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Journal of
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[3] Fassbender M, Nortier FM, Phillips DR, Hamilton
VT, Heaton RC, Jamriska DJ, et al. Some nuclear
chemical aspects of medical generator nuclide
production at the Los Alamos hot cell facility.
Radiochimica Acta 2004;92:237-43.
68 [4] Naidoo C, van der Walt TN, and Raubenheimer HG.
FIGURE 4. Ge separation scheme. Cyclotron production of Ge-68 with a Ga2O target.
Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry
[5] van der Walt TN and Vermeulen C. Thick targets
for the production of some radionuclides and the

Corresponding author, E-mail:
chemical processing of these targets at iThemba LABS. Acknowledgements
Nuclear Instruments & Methods in Physics Research
Section a-Accelerators Spectrometers Detectors and
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support
Associated Equipment 2004;521:171-5. of the Department of Energy (DOE-SC0008384).
[6] Loch C, Maziere B, Comar D, and Knipper R. A NEW H.F. Valdovinos gratefully acknowledges the
PREPARATION OF GE-68. International Journal of support of the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship
Applied Radiation and Isotopes 1982;33:267-70. offered by the Science and Medicine Graduate
[7] Adam-Rebeles R, Hermanne A, Van den Winkel P, Research Scholars (SciMed GRS) Program at UW-
De Vis L, Waegeneer R, Tarkanyi F, et al. Ge-68/Ga-68 Madison.
production revisited: excitation curves, target
preparation and chemical separation - purification.
Radiochimica Acta 2013;101:481-9.
[8] Ziegler JF, Ziegler MD, and Biersack JP. SRIM The
Stopping and Range of Ions in Matter. 2013.
[9] Pourmand A and Dauphas N. Distribution
coefficients of 60 elements on TODGA resin:
Application to Ca, Lu, Hf, U and Th isotope
geochemistry. Talanta 2010;81:741-53.

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