Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. European Commission. Eurostat: waste statistics; available at (accessed May 2011).

  2. Dang, Y., Zhang, Y., Fan, L., Chen, H. & Roco, M. Trends in worldwide nanotechnology patent applications: 1991 to 2008. J. Nanopart. Res. 12, 687–706 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Hoornweg, D. & Lam, P. in Urban Development Working Papers 9, 156 (World Bank, 2005).

  4. Cheng, H. & Hu, Y. Municipal solid waste (MSW) as a renewable source of energy: current and future practices in China. Biores. Technol. 101, 3816–3824 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Council of the European Parliament. Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the Landfill of Waste (Council of the European Parliament, 1999).

  6. Stark, W. J. Nanoparticles in biological systems. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 50, 1242–1258 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Anderson, J. G., Toohey, D. W. & Brune, W. H. Free radicals within the Antarctic vortex: the role of CFCs in Antarctic ozone loss. Science 251, 39–46 (1991).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Peto, J., Decarli, A., La Vecchia, C., Levi, F. & Negri, E. The European mesothelioma epidemic. Br. J. Cancer 79, 666–672 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Muir, D. C. G. Organochlorine contaminants in arctic marine food chains: accumulation of specific polychlorinated biphenyls and chlordane-related compounds. Environ. Sci. Technol. 22, 1071–1079 (1988).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Limbach, L. K. et al. Removal of oxide nanoparticles in a model wastewater treatment plant: influence of agglomeration and surfactants on clearing efficiency. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 5828–5833 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kiser, M. A. et al. Titanium nanomaterial removal and release from wastewater treatment plants. Environ. Sci. Technol. 43, 6757–6763 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Buonanno, G., Stabile, L., Avino, P. & Belluso, E. Chemical, dimensional and morphological ultrafine particle characterization from a waste-to-energy plant. Waste Manage. 31, 2253–2262 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Mueller, N. C. & Nowack, B. Exposure modeling of engineered nanoparticles in the environment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 4447–4453 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Belevi, H. & Moench, H. Factors determining the element behavior in municipal solid waste incinerators. 1. Field studies. Environ. Sci. Technol. 34, 2501–2506 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Belevi, H. & Langmeier, M. Factors determining the element behavior in municipal solid waste incinerators. 2. Laboratory experiments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 34, 2507–2512 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Nel, A., Xia, T., Madler, L. & Li, N. Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel. Science 311, 622–627 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Oberdörster, G., Oberdörster, E. & Oberdörster, J. Nanotoxicology: an emerging discipline evolving from studies of ultrafine particles. Environ. Health Perspect. 113, 823–839 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Ludwig, C., Lutz, H., Wochele, J. & Stucki, S. Studying the evaporation behavior of heavy metals by thermo-desorption spectrometry. Fresenius J. Anal. Chem. 371, 1057–1062 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ludwig, C., Wochele, J. & Jörimann, U. Measuring evaporation rates of metal compounds from solid samples. Anal. Chem. 79, 2992–2996 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Mädler, L., Stark, W. J. & Pratsinis, S. E. Flame-made ceria nanoparticles. J. Mater. Res. 17, 1356–1362 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Stark, W. J., Madler, L., Maciejewski, M., Pratsinis, S. E. & Baiker, A. Flame synthesis of nanocrystalline ceria-zirconia: effect of carrier liquid. Chem. Commun. 588–589 (2003).

  22. Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V. EN 481:1993 9, German version, (Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V., 1993).

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wendelin J. Stark.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information (PDF 2629 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Find nanotechnology articles, nanomaterial data and patents all in one place. Visit Nano by Nature Research