Microwave processing of vermiculite

Folorunso, Olaosebikan (2015) Microwave processing of vermiculite. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Vermiculite is a clay mineral that is generally used for a wide range of applications such as in agricultural, horticultural and construction industries. This is due to its various properties which include high porosity, lightweight, thermo-insulating, non-toxic and good absorption capacity when exfoliated. The objective of this research was to critically evaluate the fundamental interaction of electromagnetic waves with vermiculite from different source locations and to understand the mechanism of exfoliation in an applied microwave field. When vermiculite minerals are placed under the influence of high electric fields, they expand due to the rapid heating of their interlayer water, which subsequently builds up pressure that pushes apart the silicate structure. The degree of exfoliation is directly related to the intensity of the applied electric field. The principal areas covered in this thesis include: a detailed review of the fundamentals of microwave processing and issues surrounding scale up; a critical literature review of vermiculite mineralogy, and previous methods of vermiculite processing and their limitations; understanding the interaction of microwave energy with vermiculite by carrying out mineralogical and dielectric characterisation; microwave exfoliation tests of vermiculite minerals from different source locations and a comparative energy and life cycle analysis of microwave and conventional exfoliation of vermiculite.

A detailed review of the literature revealed that conventional exfoliation of vermiculite by gas or oil fuelled furnaces has significant limitations such as emissions of greenhouse gases, high-energy requirements (greater than 1 GJ/t), health and safety issues and poor process control. All work reported so far on microwave exfoliation of vermiculite has been limited to laboratory scale using domestic microwave ovens (2.45 GHz, power below 1200 W) and the route to scale up the process to industrial capacity has not given due consideration. Mineralogical characterisation of vermiculite from different geographical locations (Australia, Brazil, China and South Africa) revealed that only the sample from Brazil is a pure form of vermiculite while the other samples are predominantly hydrobiotite. All the samples have varying degrees of hydration with the Brazilian sample having the highest total water content. The presence of water in any form in a material influences its dielectric response and ultimately the microwave absorbing properties. The dielectric characterisation carried out on the different vermiculite samples shows that the vermiculite mineral structure is effectively transparent to microwave energy, but it is possible to selectively heat microwave absorber, which is the interlayer water in the vermiculite structure.

The continuous microwave exfoliation tests carried out at both pilot scale at 53-126 kg/h and the scaled up system at 300-860 kg/h demonstrated that microwave energy can be used for the industrial exfoliation of vermiculite at high throughputs and is able to produce products below the specified product bulk densities standard required by The Vermiculite Association (TVA). The degree of vermiculite exfoliation depends on factors such as power density, feedstock throughput, energy input, interlayer water content, particle size of the feedstock, and vermiculite mineralogy. The highest degree of exfoliation was recorded for the Brazilian sample, which also had the highest water content.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) frameworks by the International Organisation for Standardisation (The ISO 14040: principles and framework and ISO 14044: Requirements and guidelines) and British standards institution (PAS2050) were used to carry out comparative life cycle analysis of vermiculite exfoliation using microwave heating and conventional (industrial and Torbed) heating systems. The results showed that the microwave system potentially can give an energy saving of about 80 % and 75 % over industrial and Torbed Exfoliators respectively, and a carbon footprint saving potential of about 66 % and 65 %. It can be concluded that the reduced dust emission and noise from the microwave system would improve the working conditions, health and safety.

Furthermore, the methodology discussed in this project can be used to understand the fundamental of microwave interaction with perlite and expanded clay, which are minerals with similar physical and chemical compositions as vermiculite.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Kingman, S.
Dodds, C.
Katrib, J.
Keywords: Microwave heating, Vermiculite, Microwave energy, Microwave exfoliation
Subjects: T Technology > TN Mining engineering. Metallurgy
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering > Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering
Item ID: 28802
Depositing User: Folorunso, Olaosebikan
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2015 08:47
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2017 06:08
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/28802

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