Connecting wastes to resources for clean technologies in the chlor-alkali industry: a life cycle approach
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AuthorGarcía Herrero, María Isabel; Margallo Blanco, María; Onandía de Dios, Raquel; Aldaco García, Rubén; Irabien Gulías, José Ángel
Our current economic model is experiencing increasing demand and increasing pressure on resource utilisation, as valuable materials are lost as waste. Moving towards a circular economy and supporting efficient resource utilisation is essential for protecting the environment. The chlor-alkali industry is one of the largest consumers of salt, and efforts have been made to reduce its electricity use. Furthermore, KCl mining wastes have received increasing attention because they can be transformed into value-added resources. This work studies the influence of using different salt sources on the environmental sustainability of the chlor-alkali industry to identify further improvement opportunities. Rock salt, solar salt, KCl waste salt, vacuum salt and solution-mined salt were studied. Membrane cells in both bipolar and monopolar configurations were studied and compared to the emergent oxygen-depolarised cathode (ODC) technology. Life cycle assessment was applied to estimate the cradle-to-gate environmental impacts. The natural resource (NR) requirements and the environmental burdens (EBs) to the air and water environments were assessed. The total NR and EB requirements were reduced by 20% when vacuum salt was replaced with KCl. Moreover, the environmental impacts estimated for the monopolar membrane using KCl were comparable to those generated for the bipolar membrane using VS. The difference between the monopolar and bipolar scenarios (17%) was slightly higher than that between the bipolar and ODC technologies (12%). This work demonstrates the importance of studying every life cycle stage in a chemical process and the environmental benefit of applying a circular economy, even in energy intensive industries such as the chlor-alkali industry.