Valorizing (cleaned) sulfidic mine waste as a resource for construction materials

J Environ Manage. 2022 Oct 1:319:115742. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.115742. Epub 2022 Jul 15.


Proper management and storage of mine waste, e.g., tailings and waste rock, is one of the main issues that mining industries face. Additionally, there is already an uncountable amount of existent historical mine waste, which may, even centuries after the closure of the mine, still be leaching contaminants into the environment. One solution to minimize the risks associated with the mine waste, with also potential economic benefits, is through the valorization of the waste. This can be done by first recovering valuable metals and removing hazardous contaminants. Then, the remaining residue can be valorized into green construction materials, such as geopolymers, ceramics or cement. For some mine waste materials, such as those with only trace levels of metals that are not economically viable to extract, the "waste" can be reused directly without this additional cleaning step. In the present study, mine waste originating from three different sites was characterized and compared with the cleaned mine waste (i.e., cleaned by bioleaching or flotation methods) and with different types of green construction materials containing 13-80 wt% (cleaned and uncleaned) mine waste. Particular emphasis was given to the mobilization of metal(loid)s from the mine waste and construction materials (i.e., ceramics, alkali-activated materials and cement) under different conditions, through a series of leaching tests (i.e., EN 12457-2, US EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure, and a pH-dependent leaching test). The leaching tests were applied to either mimic current 'natural' conditions at the mining site, conditions in a landfill (end of life) or extreme conditions (i.e., extremely acidic or alkaline pH). Most of the original mine waste samples contain high levels of Pb (18-3160 mg/kg), Zn (66-10500 mg/kg), and As (10-4620 mg/kg). . The cleaning methods were not always efficient in removing the metal(loid)s and sulfur. In some cases, the cleaned mine waste samples even contained higher total metal(loid) and sulfur concentrations than the original mine waste samples. Based on the leaching studies, some alkali-activated materials, ceramics, and cement effectively immobilized certain metals (e.g., <0.5 mg/kg of Pb and <4 mg/kg of Zn). Also, longer curing times of the alkali-activated materials, in most cases, improved the immobilization of metal(loid)s. Additionally, for ceramics, the temperature at which the test pieces were fired (up to 1060 °C), also played a major role in decreasing the mobility of some metal(loid)s, while increasing others (e.g., As, potentially via the structural rearrangement of As and Fe). Overall, through this detailed characterization, the environmental impact from the mine waste to the downstream products was evaluated, determining which valorization methods are the most viable to close the circular economy loop.

Keywords: Alkali-activated materials; Cement; Ceramics; Extractive waste; Immobilization; metal(loid)s.

MeSH terms

  • Alkalies
  • Construction Materials
  • Lead*
  • Metals, Heavy* / analysis
  • Mining
  • Sulfides / chemistry
  • Sulfur


  • Alkalies
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Sulfides
  • Lead
  • Sulfur