Application of Geopolymer Composites in Wastewater Treatment: Trends, Opportunities, and Challenges

Application of Geopolymer Composites in Wastewater Treatment: Trends, Opportunities, and Challenges

Victor Odhiambo Shikuku (Kaimosi Friends University College, Kenya) and Tome Sylvain (University of Douala, Cameroon)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7838-3.ch005
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Geopolymers are amorphous aluminosilicates with some varied applications. However, the use of geopolymers in water treatment is a relatively new subject. This chapter discusses developments in synthesis, properties and applications of geopolymers and their composites for removal of heavy metals and dyes from water including reduction of hardness in water. The adsorption mechanisms and effects of various environmental conditions on adsorption efficiency are also highlighted. The chapter demonstrates that geopolymers are low cost and environmentally benign materials for wastewater treatment and offers opportunities as alternative adsorbents for sequestration of various pollutants from water subject to further investigations.
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Geopolymer Chemistry

Geopolymer is a class of largely X-ray amorphous aluminosilicate materials, generally synthesised at ambient or slightly elevated temperature by reaction of a solid aluminosilicate powder with a concentrated alkali metal silicate or hydroxide solution (Provis et al., 2005). This inorganic material was created by the French scientist Joseph Davidovits in 1970s. The aim of its creation was to develop a fire-resistant alternative to organic polymers in the aftermath of various catastrophic fires in France between 1970 and 1972.Since the period following the work carried out by Wastiels et al. (1994), the application of geopolymer shifted to uses in construction as green alternative material to ordinary Portland cement. Nowadays, its plethora applications include: fire resistant materials, decorative stone artefacts, thermal insulation, low-tech building materials, low energy ceramic tiles, refractory items, thermal shock refractories, bio-technologies (materials for medicinal applications),foundry industry, cements and concretes, composites for infrastructures repair and strengthening, high-tech composites for aircraft interior and automobile, high-tech resin systems, radioactive and toxic waste containment, arts and decoration, cultural heritage, archaeology, history of sciences and adsorbent material for water treatment. The wide variety of potential application gives rise to referred name. In literature, geopolymer is described by different terminologies such as mineral polymer, inorganic polymer, inorganic polymer glasses, alkali ash material, soil cement etc.

Mechanism of Formation of Geopolymer

The formation of geopolymer involves the mixing of solid precursors (aluminosilicates sources) such as metakaolin, fly ash, volcanic ash, slag etc with alkaline activator solution (alkali hydroxide and metasilicate). After the mixing, multi steps of reactions occur namely:

  • 1.

    Dissolution of glassy aluminosilicates;

  • 2.

    Reorganization and diffusion of dissolved ions with formation of small coagulated structures;

  • 3.

    Polycondensation to form aluminosilicate gel phases; and

  • 4.

    Solid state transformation and hardening to form hard solid.

The aforementioned geopolymerization reaction steps are summarized in Figure1 (van Deventer et al., 2007).

Figure 1.

Schematic outline of the reaction processes involved in geopolymerisation


Structure of Geopolymer

The structure of geopolymer materials are similar to zeolites, but the microstructure of a geopolymeric material is a three-dimensional silico-aluminate amorphous or semi-amorphous structure instead of crystalline (Provis et al., 2005; Xu, 2002). The geopolymer network consists of SiO4 and AlO4 tetrahedra linked alternately by sharing all the oxygens. Positive ions (Na+, K+, Li+, Ca2+, Ba2+, NH4+, H3O+) must be present in the framework cavities to balance the negative charge of Al3+ in IV-fold coordination. The poly(sialate) is designation of geopolymers based on silico-aluminates where sialate is an abbreviation for silicon-oxo-aluminate. The empirical formula of poly(sialates) is Mn{-(SiO2)z-AlO2}n, wH2O which M is a cation such as potassium, sodium or calcium, and «n» is a degree of polycondensation; «z» is an integer 1, 2, 3 (Davidovits, 2017). Geopolymers comprise the following molecular units:siloxo (-Si-O-Si-O-), sialate (-Si-O-Al-O-), sialate-siloxo (-Si-O-Al-O-Si-O-), sialate-disiloxo (-Si-O-Al-O-Si-O-Si-O-),ferro-sialate(-Fe-O-Si-O-Al-O-Si-O-). Figure 2 is a representation of the structure of geopolymer as proposed by Davidovict in 1994 (Davidovits, 1994).

Figure 2.

Structure of geopolymer proposed by Davidovits


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