Life cycle assessment of sustainable raw material acquisition for functional magnetite bionanoparticle production

Jhuma Sadhukhan, Nimisha Joshi, Mobolaji Shemfe, Jonathan R. Lloyd

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Magnetite nanoparticles (MNPs) have several applications, including use in medical diagnostics, renewable energy production and waste remediation. However, the processes for MNP production from analytical-grade materials are resource intensive and can be environmentally damaging. This work for the first time examines the life cycle assessment (LCA) of four MNP production cases: (i) industrial MNP production system; (ii) a state-of-the-art MNP biosynthesis system; (iii) an optimal MNP biosynthesis system and (iv) an MNP biosynthesis system using raw materials sourced from wastewaters, in order to recommend a sustainable raw material acquisition pathway for MNP synthesis. The industrial production system was used as a benchmark to compare the LCA performances of the bio-based systems (cases ii-iv). A combination of appropriate life cycle impact assessment methods was employed to analyse environmental costs and benefits of the systems comprehensively. The LCA results revealed that the state-of-the-art MNP biosynthesis system, which utilises analytical grade ferric chloride and sodium hydroxide as raw materials, generated environmental costs rather than benefits compared to the industrial MNP production system. Nevertheless, decreases in environmental impacts by six-fold were achieved by reducing sodium hydroxide input from 11.28 to 1.55 in a mass ratio to MNPs and replacing ferric chloride with ferric sulphate (3.02 and 2.59, respectively, in a mass ratio to MNPs) in the optimal biosynthesis system. Thus, the potential adverse environmental impacts of MNP production via the biosynthesis system can be reduced by minimising sodium hydroxide and substituting ferric sulphate for ferric chloride. Moreover, considerable environmental benefits were exhibited in case (iv), where Fe(III) ions were sourced from metal-containing wastewaters and reduced to MNPs by electrons harvested from organic substrates. It was revealed that 14.4 kJ and 3.9 kJ of primary fossil resource savings could be achieved per g MNP and associated electricity recoveries from wastewaters, respectively. The significant environmental benefits exhibited by the wastewater-fed MNP biosynthesis system shows promise for the sustainable production of MNPs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)116-125
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Environmental Management
    Early online date18 May 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


    • Environmental impact assessment
    • Fe(III)-reduction
    • Microbial biotechnology
    • Monte Carlo simulation
    • Resource recovery
    • Wastewater remediation


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