Vanadium commentary piece in ES&T

Some of the R3AW team have co-authored a commentary paper on the potential re-emerging environmental risks of vanadium.  The work, with colleagues at CEH Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, Nottingham Trent University, UCL and Craigencalt Rural Community Trust, highlights increasing global use and emerging markets for vanadium.  Knowledge gaps surrounding environmental behaviour are highlighted alongside the need for improved monitoring and management.  The full text can be found here.


Latest ES&T paper demonstrates long term effectiveness of bauxite residue rehabilitation

Bauxite residue is a high volume, alkaline waste produced by the alumina industry.  Sustainable management strategies for waste depositories are imperative to prevent environmental risk and to rehabilitate the land.  Our latest paper in the leading journal Environmental Science and Technology shows how simple amendment of the alkaline, saline metal-rich residue with a layer of sand, organic matter and appropriate plant seeds can lead to a sustained healthy chemical environment for vegetation communities to thrive nearly 2 decades after initial treatment.  The effectiveness of the surface amendment extends well below surface layers and provides conditions for resilient biological communities to develop, which adjust pH, lower salinity and lower mobility of potentially problematic metals.  The work shows that simple, low-cost interventions can have lasting effects and minimise the environmental risks of this globally important waste, as well as returning waste sites to rehabilitated, functioning ecosystems.

The link to the paper can be found here and will soon be available open access.

ES&T cover Bray

MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste. The Final meeting?

The third MAPeRR meeting and a lot has been happening since we last met! MAPeRR put together a poster of project findings for the Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) conference which was brilliantly organised by Dr Anne P.M. Velenturf in December.  We had a lot of positive comments from other conference attendees and it was great to catch up with one another and discuss our research strategy!


Stopping for Lunch. The MAPeRR Team, From right to left; Eleni Iacovidou, Helen Baxter, John Chachladakis, Kok Siew Ng and Johnathan Bush.

At the last meeting we had decided to split off into two research groups, one focused on completing the qualitative analysis of our case study, using technology being developed by Stopford Energy and Environment, and the other research team completing a life cycle analysis which is the more quantitative analysis. The purpose of this meeting was to integrate these two sets of results and decide upon our strategy for disseminating our findings.

The morning was once again full of lively discussion and debate, as we looked at the findings of each team and decided upon who should write what and how to most effectively communicate our findings. These face to face meetings are a brilliant opportunity for us all to discuss the project and listen to one another’s perspective on what we have found.  It is an excellent way to approach research and the collaborative nature of the project means that we get a really interesting discussion going about, research findings, creating new ideas and ways of approaching the project.  After much intensive brain work we once again retreated for some much needed nourishment at “The Library” to recharge our batteries.

When we returned replenished and recharged we put together a timetable for what we need to achieve in the next couple of months. After that we went our separate ways knowing that we have got some hard work to put in, but feeling that the MAPeRR project has achieved some really interesting findings.  Watch this space to find out we will be up to next!

MAPeRR partners: The Universities of Hull (R3AW), Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey and Stopford Energy & Environment.

Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.

MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste

The second MAPeRR meeting was held at the University of Leeds this Monday and the team were together for the first time since our initial inaugural meeting early in the summer. The first challenge of the day was to find the meeting room the second to work out how to use the coffee machine! Both objectives were achieved.20161010_151440

The first half of the meeting was very intense, each member of the team reporting on what they had achieved over the summer. We each  had produced a report and took the other members of the team through our findings. Questions were asked and we discussed the range of issues that were highlighted in each report. We animatedly talked about the ways in which these key issues related to the MAPeRR case study and how these same problems were relevant for the individual projects which form the NERC programme, Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW). An initial assessment of what the phases of the project required was decided upon and then mentally exhausted we adjourned for a much-needed lunch. Due to the excellence of the food last time we revisited the same restaurant and were equally impressed. We even managed to sit at the same table! We left satisfied and smelling of charcoal and barbecued food.

Back to work, where we planned in more detail the next phases of the project and the work that each of us will be responsible for. The logistics of arranging when we could all get together again and how the work would be achieved were all thrashed out. We have split into teams each team bringing a range of skills from their own area of specialisation to the MAPeRR project. The next few months are definitely going to be interesting and intense! The mood of the meeting was very optimistic and we are all excited about what MAPeRR can achieve in the time we have left.

As dusk drew in goodbyes were said and we are looking forward to meeting up again at the RRfW annual conference in early December!

MAPeRR partners: The Universities of Hull (R3AW), Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey and Stopford Energy & Environment.

Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.

New open access paper on V recovery

Out team just published a new paper on vanadium recovery from red mud leachates using ion exchange resins. The paper is available on open access here.


Bauxite residue or red mud is an important by-product of the alumina industry, and current management practices do not allow their full valorisation, especially with regard to the recovery of critical metals, like vanadium.

This paper focus on vanadium removal and recovery from the leachates, with emphasis on the environmental remediation of bauxite residue disposal areas or closed legacy sites where vanadium is both a contaminant and a metal with economic interest present in the effluent.

As an environmental pollutant, removal of vanadium from leachates may be an obligation of bauxite residue disposal areas (BRDA) long-term management requirements. Vanadium removal from the leachate can be coupled with the recovery, and potentially can be used to offset long-term legacy treatment costs in legacy sites.

This study has shown that anion exchange resins can be used for metal removal and recovery from bauxite residue leachates in a highly alkaline pH range (up to 13).

The results showed that using simulated undiluted bauxite residue leachate as feed solution limited the resin efficacy, due to the presence of competing ions. However, the resins are very effective at V removal for simulated post-closure bauxite residue disposal areas (BRDA) effluent.

In the column experiments, V was readily eluted from the resins in concentrations similar to some industrial process liquors, which holds promise for recovery and recycling of V into downstream industrial processes.

Further research is required to scale-up laboratory findings. This should include assessment pretreatments and optimisation of operating parameters, such as flow rate and bed height. This will help facilitate life cycle assessments of anion exchange resins as a potentially efficient and cost-effective option for both the treatment of bauxite residue leachates and the recovery of metals of critical importance such as vanadium.



MAPeRR – Multi-parametric Assessment of Policies for Resource Recovery from Waste

AIM: Mapping policies and legislation and their impact on sustainable resource recovery from waste.


The first strategy meeting of MAPeRR took place in Leeds yesterday. This is a six-month collaborative mini project being funded by NERC under their Resource Recovery from Waste (RRfW) initiative. Three universities, Hull (R3AW),  Leeds (C-VORR) and Surrey, are involved as well Stopford Energy & Environment who are collaborating with Lancaster Environment Centre.

Once we all finally the arrived we settled down to working out exactly what it was we want to achieve and how on earth we were going to manage it! We also needed a project name with a catchy acronym. This was going to be no easy matter. Much discussion followed during the morning and we decided that this was going to be very complex job. We managed to make some decisions during the morning, like who was going to take on which responsibilities within MAPeRR (someone has to be in charge of making sure we all get fed).  After such an exhausting morning re-fuelling was required so we all went for lunch to an Italian restaurant which Eleni (working on C-VORR) recommended. This interlude was much needed and the conversation flowed accompanied by good food provided in generous portions!



The afternoon we really got down to the nitty-gritty! Excitement and enthusiasm for MAPeRR was tangible in the room and no one seemed to want to leave at the end of the day, some members of the team having to rush to avoid missing the train! We all now have a busy summer in front of those having allocating work to the individual team members to come see before our next meeting.


Develop an evidence based map that will enable us to identify gaps and interventions between existing policies and waste practices and to ensure sustainability and resilience of resource recovery management practices.


Written by Dr Helen Baxter (R3AW) University of Hull.



Resource Recovery from Waste Researchers’ meeting

On the 2nd December 2015, at the University of Leeds, the postdoctoral research associates of the projects in the Resource Recovery from Waste Programme met to identify potential areas of collaboration and to develop applications for mini projects. Andy, Helen and Helena were there presenting the R3AW project and the different work packages. Great way to initiate a network of researchers and to explore the potential for collaboration between institutions and across the programme.


Wealth in waste? Using industrial leftovers to offset climate emissions

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on The Conversation
By Helena I. GomesMike Rogerson and Will Mayes, University of Hull

More than a billion tonnes of potentially toxic, bleach-like waste is produced and piled in landfills every year, with often devastating effects. And yet most people haven’t even heard of these “alkaline wastes”.

We want to change this. Our research has identified nearly two billion tonnes of alkaline residues that are produced in the world each year, most of which can contaminate groundwater and rivers if not proper managed. We should be doing much more about the problem – these wastes can even be put to good use.

Alkaline waste can be solid or sludgy. It mostly involves slags, ashes or muds formed as a byproduct of steel, aluminium or coal power plants, waste incineration or the construction industry. All these wastes are different, but what they have in common is that they rapidly create bleach-like solutions when they meet rainwater.

Steel slag, a byproduct of the steel industry and an example of an alkaline residue.

Often it’s simply stored in piles or sent to landfill. This isn’t safe. The waste can form toxic dust that blows into the atmosphere, while rain that lands on top can filter through, picking up toxic chemicals and producing caustic “leachates” that can flow out into rivers and groundwater.

Steer well clear

Alkaline leachates have a toxic effect on aquatic life (we wouldn’t want to swim through bleach, either). It raises the water pH and metal concentrations, and consumes oxygen.

Carbonate precipitates in a small stream smothers aquatic habitats.

Once this stuff has been produced it’s hard to stop. Steel mills can be a source of alkaline leachates even 30 years or more after closure. Water with pH higher than 12 (somewhere between soapy water and bleach) has now leaked from one chromite waste tip for more than 100 years.

It’s hard to determine the exact link between contamination and problems for plants and animals, but alkaline waste can clearly cause harm. Studies have found ash from coal plants has killed geese and made tree swallows smaller and less fertile.

Perhaps the most severe case of alkaline waste poisoning happened in 2010, when a dam failed at an aluminium refinery in Ajka, Hungary. This released a million cubic metres of “red mud”, a byproduct of aluminium production with a pH level of around 13 in this case – similar to oven cleaner. The red mud inundated 1,000 acres of agricultural and urban land and was transported more than 120km down the Marcal river to the Danube, “extinguishing” all life in the tributary. The flood drowned ten people and left many more with severe chemical burns.

Can we make it stop?

We can treat alkaline leachates through aeration or by adding acid to neutralise it but this is expensive. We need sustainable alternatives. One promising proposal involves constructing wetlands in and around polluted sites, where the marshy ground, the plants and the associated microorganisms restrict the contamination.

Many attempts have been made to find ways of reusing these wastes but none of them are practical enough to stop landfill disposal. Alkaline wastes have been used in road construction, concrete, cement and plasterboard, for example.

Adding these wastes to the soil can reduce acidity, so usage as phosphate fertiliser is also common, while labs are testing whether it can be used in wastewater treatment.

All right junk in all the right places?

It can even help the fight against climate change. Chemicals in the wastes such as calcium and magnesium react with carbon dioxide and remove it from the atmosphere, storing it as a stable mineral. This form of carbon sequestration essentially mimics natural weathering processes and could be a safe and permanent storage option since only acid or extreme temperatures of 900°C or more can release this CO2. It could even help offset some of the emissions from the energy-intensive industries that create alkaline wastes in the first place.

In fact, if all materials that contain silica (cement, construction and demolition wastes, slag, ash and combustion products) were used for sequestration they could take 697-1,218 megatonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year.

Steel slags alone could capture 170 megatonnes per year, while the red mud stored worldwide could capture 572 megatonnes. If all the red mud produced in a year was carbonated, 3–4% of the aluminium industry’s global CO2 emissions could be captured.

Red mud has already sequestered 100 megatonnes of CO2 worldwide from the late 19th century to 2008 – without the industry even trying. Boosting this number could allow for some real downward pressure on its emissions.

Maybe it’s time to get clever

Recent studies have shown alkaline wastes also contain large quantities of metals we would like to recover for recycling. Some are critical in terms of supply, or essential to new green technologies. For example vanadium, used in offshore wind turbines, lithium and cobalt for vehicle fuel cells, and rare earth elements crucial for solar power systems.

The obvious solution: try to unify the needs of resource recovery and remediation, by developing treatment methods for alkaline leachates that recover critical elements soluble at high pH, suppress dust production, increase carbon sequestration and treat the pollution caused.

With thanks to our study co-authors Douglas Stewart, professor of geo-environmental engineering, and Ian Burke, associate professor of environmental geochemistry, both at the University of Leeds.

The Conversation

Helena I. Gomes, Postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Sciences, University of Hull; Mike Rogerson, Senior Lecturer in Earth System Science, University of Hull, and Will Mayes, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, University of Hull

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.