Industrial Wastewater Treatment Using a South African Natural Zeolite, Clinoptilolite

Semosa, Selilo Bethuel
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Natural zeolites are finding applicability in a broad range of industrial processes. This study assesses the potential applications of a South African natural zeolite, Clinoptilolite, and develops a methodology to quickly screen and assess these applications. Zeolites are known to have ion exchange and adsorption properties. Wastewater treatment has been identified as a potentially important opportunity in South Africa, since South Africa - and particularly Gauteng - is a water scarce region. The wastewater treatment industry in this region can be divided into two main categories of effluent: namely chemicals from coal and the metal recovery and finishing related to the mining industry. The focus of this work was to find a method to screen for potential uses of Clinoptilolite in these industries. The major effluent treatment issue in respect of the effluents from coal-based processes was identified to be the removal of oxygenate organics that are highly soluble in water, such as ethanol and acetone. This problem cannot be solved using vapour-liquid equilibrium based processes due to high energy costs, and liquid-liquid equilibrium based processes inherently introduce new contaminants into the wastewater. We therefore screened the zeolite for application in the removal of soluble organics via adsorption. The zeolite was found to be unsuitable for the adsorption of acetone and ethanol due to the preferential adsorption of water. As a result we tested the potential of the zeolite as a drying agent for ethanol and acetone. It was found that this zeolite could find application in the dehydration of ethanol, but not acetone. In effluent from the mining and metals based industries, heavy metals frequently occur and are usually toxic, such as lead, zinc and nickel. Such contaminated water must be disposed of as toxic waste, and this is very costly. Thus being able to selectively remove these metals allows for the possible recovery and recycling of a potentially valuable metal. If no application can be found for the recovered metal, the loaded zeolite would need to be disposed of as toxic waste, but the volume of this waste is significantly smaller than that of the original effluent due to the concentration effect of ion exchange processes. All of the metals were ion exchanged onto the zeolite successfully. The zeolite exhibited exceptional selectivity for the removal of lead, and reduced the concentration of lead in the water to levels below detection by Atomic Adsorption. The selectivity for the uptake of the metals in decreasing order was lead, zinc and lastly nickel. Therefore, provided the zeolite can be regenerated, it could be used for effluent treatment in mining activities that have traces of lead in the ore body, such as zinc and silver deposits, and in the battery industry. As a result of the work presented in this dissertation, a further project was undertaken to investigate the regeneration of the zeolite. Preliminary findings indicate that although it can be regenerated, the zeolite capacity decreases with each successive regeneration cycle. More work is required on regeneration to improve the lifespan of the zeolite.
Student Number : 9400913V - MSc (Eng) dissertation - School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering - Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment
Natural zeolites, industrial processes, Clinoptilolite, Wastewater treatment, metal recovery, mining industry, oxygenate organics