Life-cycle assessment of the thermal and catalytic pyrolysis over sepiolite of face masks
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PyrolysisFace masksEnvironmental impact
Since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, extensive quantities of face masks have been used and discarded. Most of these masks end up in landfills, causing a high environmental impact and no benefits. However, there are alternative ways to deal with this waste in a more sustainable way. For example, valorisation of face masks through pyrolysis has received special attention because it offers efficient application to produce a liquid oil that can be used as a diesel substitute and a solid char that can be used as an activated carbon substitute after activation. In this context, this study applies the Life-Cycle Assessment methodology to quantify and analyse the environmental impacts of different treatment scenarios based on the pyrolysis of surgical masks and FFP2 masks. It also compares their environmental performance with the conventional practice of landfilling. The scenarios studied include both thermal and catalytic pyrolysis by using sepiolite, a low-cost material abundant in Spain. Data on the pyrolysis process were obtained from laboratory experiments. It was found that the use of the produced oil as a diesel substitute very significantly reduces the environmental impact in all pyrolysis scenarios. Consequently, the pyrolysis of face masks can reduce the environmental impact caused by the treatment of this waste material. Furthermore, the thermal pyrolysis performs environmentally better than the catalytic pyrolysis. In all scenarios, freshwater ecotoxicity and marine ecotoxicity are the environmental impact categories that cause the highest environmental impact overall.