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Persistence of engineered nanoparticles in a municipal solid-waste incineration plant


More than 100 million tonnes of municipal solid waste are incinerated worldwide every year1. However, little is known about the fate of nanomaterials during incineration, even though the presence of engineered nanoparticles in waste is expected to grow2. Here, we show that cerium oxide nanoparticles introduced into a full-scale waste incineration plant bind loosely to solid residues from the combustion process and can be efficiently removed from flue gas using current filter technology. The nanoparticles were introduced either directly onto the waste before incineration or into the gas stream exiting the furnace of an incinerator that processes 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. Nanoparticles that attached to the surface of the solid residues did not become a fixed part of the residues and did not demonstrate any physical or chemical changes. Our observations show that although it is possible to incinerate waste without releasing nanoparticles into the atmosphere, the residues to which they bind eventually end up in landfills or recovered raw materials, confirming that there is a clear environmental need to develop degradable nanoparticles.

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Figure 1: Detection of CeO2 nanoparticles in all solid and fluid waste combustion residues.
Figure 2: Quantification of the flows of cerium in all combustion residues.
Figure 3: Relative and absolute recovered mass of cerium in the combustion residues.

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The authors thank S. Halim, N. Luechinger, P. Ammann, R. Frey, L. Morf, A. Schuler, M. Tellenbach and C. Raptis for technical support. Electron microscopy was performed at the Electron Microscopy Center of the ETH Zurich (EMEZ), Switzerland. Financial support and approval of the study was provided by State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO (L. Bergamin, C. Rueegg), the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN (A. Hauser, K. Schenk, C. Müller Beat, R. Quartier) and Swiss Accident Insurance SUVA (C. Bosshard, P. Steinle). Funding from ‘Prosuite’, a research project under the Seventh Framework Program of the European Commission (ref. no. 227078), is gratefully acknowledged.

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L.L. initiated the project and designed the study, supported by A.S., M.J., K.P. and T.W. E.E. and D.S were involved in sampling and sample preparations. B.H., R.B. and L.F. performed the ICP-MS analysis. F.K. performed electron microscopy analysis. C.L. led the thermodynamic calculations. M.R. was responsible for nanoparticle suspension preparation. D.G., S.H. and W.J.S. co-wrote the manuscript. T.W. was involved in planning and conducting the study, analysed data and co-wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Wendelin J. Stark.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Walser, T., Limbach, L., Brogioli, R. et al. Persistence of engineered nanoparticles in a municipal solid-waste incineration plant. Nature Nanotech 7, 520–524 (2012).

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