Life cycle assessment to evaluate the environmental performance of new construction material from stainless steel slag

Abstract

Purpose

Many new opportunities are explored to lower the CO2 emissions of the cement industry. Academic and industrial researches are currently focused on the possibility of recycling steel production residues in the cement industry, in order to produce new “low-carbon” binders for construction materials. The purpose of this paper is to assess the environmental benefits and costs of steel residue valorisation processes to produce a new binder for construction materials.

Methods

Among other stainless steel slags (SSS), argon oxygen decarburisation (AOD)-slag has the potential to be recovered as a binder during the production of new construction materials. Alkali activation and carbonation processes can, in fact, activate the binding properties of the AOD-slag. However, AOD-slag is today only recycled as low-quality aggregate. For the present study, three different types of construction blocks (called SSS-blocks) were developed starting from the AOD-slag (one block through alkali activation and two blocks through carbonation). The data from the production of the three construction blocks have been collected and used to perform a life cycle assessment (LCA) study, comparing SSS-block production with the production of traditional paver ordinary Portland cement (OPC) concrete.

Results and discussion

The analysis showed that SSS-block production through alkali activation and carbonation has the potential of lowering some of the environmental impacts of OPC-concrete. The LCA results also show that the main bottleneck in the alkali activation process is the production of the alkali activators required in the process, while the use of electricity and of pure CO2 streams in carbonation lowers the environmental performances of the entire process.

Conclusions

The valorisation of AOD-slag to produce new construction materials is a promising route to lower the environmental impacts of cement and concrete industries. This product-level analysis stresses the need of updating the LCI datasets for alkali activators and boric oxide and of widening the scope of the environmental analysis up to system level, including potential economic interactions and market exchanges between steel and construction sectors.

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Abbreviations

AA-block:

Alkali-activated block

AOD:

Argon oxygen decarburisation

BFS:

Blast furnace slag

FC-block:

Fast-carbonated block

GGBFS:

Ground granulated blast furnace slag

LCA:

Life cycle assessment

LCI:

Life cycle inventory

LCIA:

Life cycle impact assessment

NA:

Natural aggregates

OPC:

Ordinary Portland cement

SC-block:

Slow-carbonated block

SCMs:

Supplementary cementitious materials

SSS:

Stainless steel slag

SSS-blocks:

Stainless steel slag blocks

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Correspondence to Andrea Di Maria.

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Responsible editor: Andrea J. Russell-Vaccari

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Di Maria, A., Salman, M., Dubois, M. et al. Life cycle assessment to evaluate the environmental performance of new construction material from stainless steel slag. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 2091–2109 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1440-1

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Keywords

  • Alkali activation
  • Carbonation
  • Hazardous waste management
  • Industrial symbiosis
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Stainless steel slag
  • Sustainable building materials