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Enhancements in phytoremediation technology: Environmental assessment including different options of biomass disposal and comparison with a consolidated approach

Vocciante, Marco, Caretta, Antonio, Bua, Letizia, Bagatin, Roberto, Franchi, Elisabetta, Petruzzelli, Gianniantonio, Ferro, Sergio
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.237 pp. 560-568
Brassica juncea, EDTA (chelating agent), Helianthus annuus, Lupinus albus, arsenic, biofuels, biomass, computer software, ecological footprint, energy recovery, environmental assessment, environmental impact, global warming potential, heavy metals, landfills, lead, life cycle assessment, phosphates, phytoremediation, polluted soils, pyrolysis, toxicity
Phytoremediation represents a solution for treating soils contaminated by heavy metals, provided that appropriate plant species are selected and the proper strategy chosen. When dealing with soil contaminated with arsenic and/or lead, which are non-essential elements for plants but also among the most toxic metals, this task is particularly difficult to achieve. In a previous contribution we showed that metals accumulation by Lupinus albus, Brassica juncea and Helianthus annuus can be improved by dosing suitable chemicals (i.e. phosphate and EDTA), leading to a quicker and cheaper intervention.This study discusses the assisted phytoremediation of a real site contaminated by several metals, presenting an environmental assessment realized by using the GaBi LCA software. The environmental sustainability of the reclamation technology was analyzed in terms of Global Warming Potential (GWP-100 years), considering different destinations for the harvested biomass, and comparing its ecological footprint with the outcomes of a conventional treatment of excavation and landfill disposal.The comparison clearly shows the great advantage of the phytoremediation, in terms of environmental impact, highlighting the importance of correctly handling the disposal of contaminated biomass produced. In fact, its incineration (aimed at reducing the volumes to be disposed of) could be more onerous than a direct landfilling, but re-qualify as a more sustainable choice if combined with energy recovery. The same applies to fast pyrolysis, which seems to be the most sustainable approach to date, at least in terms of technological maturity, although this requires technical-economic considerations on the quality and use of biofuels produced.