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Nickel industry: heavy metal(loid)s contamination - sources, environmental impacts and recent advances on waste valorization

Bartzas Georgios, Tsakiridis Petros E., Komnitsas Konstantinos

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Year 2021
Type of Item Review
Bibliographic Citation G. Bartzas, P. E. Tsakiridis, and K. Komnitsas, “Nickel industry: heavy metal(loid)s contamination - sources, environmental impacts and recent advances on waste valorization,” Curr. Opin. Environ. Sci. Health, vol. 21, June 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.coesh.2021.100253.
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The nickel industry faces today many challenges, because nickel is a critical metal used for low-carbon technologies and for the production of super alloys, Li-ion and Ni-MH batteries for electric vehicles. Thus, its demand is expected to increase substantially in the following years. Nickel production is energy intensive and results in the generation of large amounts of solid wastes which if improperly handled or insufficiently valorized pose significant risks to the environment and public health. In this context, this mini-review focuses on smelter slags and leaching residues which account for a significant share of the total waste volume produced by the nickel industry and they may have elevated content of toxic and leachable heavy metal(loid)s that can be released under specific conditions and migrate into several environmental media. Despite the inherent contamination potential of nickel smelter slags and leaching residues, assessment of their long-term leaching behavior with the use of standard tests for different disposal options and locations has received limited attention. Based on the urgent need to explore alternatives to current disposal practices, recent advances toward valorization of both waste streams aiming especially at the production of alkali-activated materials and supplementary cementitious materials are presented. Within this context, life cycle assessment can be a valuable tool for the quantification of waste valorization benefits and environmental impacts and thus identify options for improvement. Thus, the life cycle assessment results can assist all stakeholders associated with the nickel industry to screen all feasible alternatives and select the optimum waste management strategy, so its environmental footprint is substantially reduced.