Thermal and Geochemical Changes in Soils Vitrified Using a Plasma Arc Torch

Johnson, Marie C.
May 2005
Environmental Engineering Science;May2005, Vol. 22 Issue 3, p294
Academic Journal
Using a plasma arc torch to vitrify soils contaminated with solid and hazardous wastes produces an extremely durable product greatly reduced in volume and surface area. Although vitrification is understood in principle, thermal and geochemical changes occurring in contaminated soils during vitrification are poorly characterized. In this work, these changes were studied by first constructing a theoretical model and then performing laboratory scale vitrification experiments. The theoretical model is founded on standard heat transfer equations. The model predictions were used to design the subsequent experiments. The model successfully predicted a 100 °C temperature plateau and the width of the vitrified zone formed using kilowatt-size torches. The model indicated that most melting occurs in the first 30 min after the torch is turned on, suggesting that powering the torch for long periods of time is inefficient. The model also showed that melting below the groundwater table is energy inefficient. Laboratory experiments were conducted by filling a 4-foot tall, 4-foot diameter cylinder with compacted soil doped with CsHCO and HoO and inserting a plasma torch in a centrally located borehole. Thermocouples installed at various distances from the torch revealed an extremely steep thermal gradient. Soil and glass samples were analyzed using X-ray fluorescence and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The glasses produced were more homogenous than the starting soil, indicating vigorous convection within the molten zone. Water, organic compounds, and silica were strongly volatilized during vitrification; lead (Pb) had the highest volatility of all trace elements studied, and no significant cesium volatility was observed.


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