Copper metallurgical slags: mineralogy, bio/weathering processes and metal bioleaching
Problem statement: Copper pyrometallurgical slags are inevitable waste by-products of Cu smelting operations. These waste are considered to be important due to their production volume and high residual metal content that are inefficiently recovered during industrial process. Due to the lack of sustainable practices in the past, tremendous volumes of Cu-slags have been disposed in many industrial districts, regardless of the weathering and associated environmental risks. Consequently, there are many areas where slags have been proven to be a source of metallic pollution for the surrounding environment. At the present time, the outstanding contradiction between the sustainable development and environmental pollution encourages to undertake the action regarding this aspect. For this reason, slags are currently being used as supplementary materials for civil engineering purposes (e.g. cement and concrete additives, road bed filling materials, hydraulic construction materials) rather than disposed. Additionally, modern-day management strategies require slags to be thoroughly evaluated with respect to their environmental stability prior undertaking any reuse action.
Main objectives were to evaluate environmental stability of Cu-metallurgical slags resulting from different periods of industrial activities and different smelting technologies. Those included: historical crystalline slag (HS) as well as modern: shaft furnace slag (SFS), granulated slag (GS) and lead slag (LS). Different approaches undertaken in this PhD work considered: i) chemical and mineral phase compositions of slags, ii) leaching susceptibility of slags under exposure to different pH-stat conditions, iii) slags weathering under exposure to organic acids commonly found in soil environment, iv) bacterially (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) mediated weathering of slags and v) future application of studied slags for metal recovery by implementing the bioleaching method.
Crucial results: The results of the pH-dependent leaching tests showed a higher metal release in strong acidic conditions (pH 2 and 4), whereas leachability at alkaline conditions (pH 10.5) revealed a lower importance for all the slags analyzed. The study considering soil weathering scenario demonstrated that Cu-slags are susceptible to dissolution in the presence of artificial root exudates (ARE), humic (HA) and fulvic acids (FA), whereby ARE were found to have stronger contribution than HA and FA. According to data collected, the different behavior of individual slags is strictly related to their characteristics (chemical and phase composition) reflecting various susceptibilities to dissolution under the investigated conditions. The study considering bio-weathering scenario revealed that Pseudomonas aeruginosa considerably enhances the release of major (Si and Fe) and metallic (Cu, Zn, Pb) elements compared to the effects of abiotic factors, regardless of the slags chemistry and structure. Furthermore, a high gain (up to 90%) of metals (Cu, Zn, Fe) could be credited to bioleaching with Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans under laboratory conditions.
General conclusions: The environmental stability of slags depends on both, their bulk chemistry and mineralogy. However, mineral phases harbouring the metals are the key players in metal leachability intensity. For, this reason consideration of individual slags behaviour is important for preventing environmental contamination and should be regarded as priority branch of sustainable slag management. Optimization of operating parameters for bioleaching following development of industrial scale technology is an incentive scheme for future management of