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April 03, 2003— Ottawa, Ontario

As part of an international collaboration with Singapore, NRC researchers will be working to turn a hazardous waste into a usable construction product.

Lightweight aggregate material  produced by the researchers in Singapore Disposal of garbage is a worldwide problem, and involves the use of methods such as landfills or incineration. In densely populated places where space is at a premium, incineration is often the most popular solution. In some cases, such as in Singapore, it is the only solution.

But, incineration does not mean complete waste elimination. Facilities are forced to deal with the substantial accumulation of fly ash, lightweight particles entrained in the gases released during burning. Fly ash, which collects in the flues of incinerator smoke stacks, is classified as a hazardous material because of the range of heavy metals it contains, making disposal difficult and expensive. Chances for safe disposal, and even reuse, are much more promising if the toxic metals can be trapped in stable synthetic "rock-like" materials made from other non-hazardous minerals also found in the fly ash. The NRC-Singapore research project will focus on creating these new materials.

According to Dr. Pamela Whitfield of the NRC Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology, the project involves several key steps. To begin, Dr. Whitfield will work with her counterpart at Singapore's Institute for Environmental Science and Engineering, Dr. Tim White, to study and characterize the properties of "stable" mineral structures which, through advanced ceramic processing, will be turned into new synthetic "rock-like" materials. The project will also entail fundamental studies of the synthesis, crystal structure and microstructure of these new rock-like materials.

Representation of the crystal structure of the mineral apatite.

"The trick is to be able to trap all of the harmful elements in the structure without everything falling apart," Dr. Whitfield explained. To do this, researchers will likely have to create a "range of structures" capable of accommodating the different types of toxic materials. Another crucial step involves studying the leaching behaviour of the new materials, work that will be carried out by Dr. Lyndon Mitchell of the NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC). NRC-IRC will also apply its expertise in extrusion technologies to create roofing tiles made from the new materials.

The project, which will begin in the next few months is made possible through an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NRC and the Agency of Science, Technology and Research of Singapore, known as A*Star. Under the agreement, both sides provide funding for joint collaborations. Over 10 different NRC research institutes are currently involved in research projects under the agreement, which commenced in 1997.

Find out more about NRC's institutes involved in this collaboration:


Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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