Retention of metal and sulphate ions from acidic mining water by anionic nanofibrillated cellulose

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Dec 1;599-600:1608-1613. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.05.009. Epub 2017 May 18.


We carried out an adsorption experiment to investigate the ability of anionic nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) to retain metal and SO42- ions from authentic highly acidic (pH3.2) mining water. Anionic NFC gels of different consistencies (1.1-%, 1.4-% and 1.8-% w/w) were allowed to react for 10min with mining water, after which NFC-induced changes in the metal and SO42- concentrations of the mining water were determined. The sorption capacities of the NFC gels were calculated as the difference between the element concentrations in the untreated and NFC-treated mining water samples. All the NFCs efficiently co-adsorbed both metals and SO42-. The retention of metals was concluded to take place through formation of metal-ligand complexes. The reaction between the NFC ligand and the polyvalent cations renders the cellulose nanofibrils positively charged and, thus, able to retain SO42- electrostatically. Adsorption capacity of the NFC gels substantially increased upon decreasing DM content as a result of the dilution-induced weakening of the mutual interactions between individual cellulose nanofibrils. This outcome reveals that the dilution of the NFC gel not only increases its purification capacity but also reduces the demand for cellulosic raw material. These results suggest that anionic NFC made of renewable materials serves as an environmentally sound and multifunctional purification agent for acidic multimetal mining waters or AMDs of high ionic strength. Unlike industrial minerals traditionally used to precipitate valuable metals from acidic mining effluents before their permanent disposal from the material cycle, NFC neither requires mining of unrenewable raw materials nor produces inorganic sludges.

Keywords: AMD; Circular economy; Co-adsorption; Metal-ligand complex; Purification.