Steel slag can be applied as substitute for natural aggregates in construction applications. The material imposes a high pH (typically 12.5) and low redox potential (Eh), which may lead to environmental problems in specific application scenarios. The aim of this study is to investigate the potential of accelerated steel slag carbonation, at relatively low pCO2 pressure (0.2bar), to improve the environmental pH and the leaching properties of steel slag, with specific focus on the leaching of vanadium. Carbonation experiments are performed in laboratory columns with steel slag under water-saturated and -unsaturated conditions and temperatures between 5 and 90°C. Two types of steel slag are tested; free lime containing (K3) slag and K1 slag with a very low free lime content. The fresh and carbonated slag samples are investigated using a combination of leaching experiments, geochemical modelling of leaching mechanisms and microscopic/mineralogical analysis, in order to identify the major processes that control the slag pH and resulting V leaching. The major changes in the amount of sequestered CO2 and the resulting pH reduction occurred within 24h, the free lime containing slag (K3-slag) being more prone to carbonation than the slag with lower free lime content (K1-slag). While carbonation at these conditions was found to occur predominantly at the surface of the slag grains, the formation of cracks was observed in carbonated K3 slag, suggesting that free lime in the interior of slag grains had also reacted. The pH of the K3 slag (originally pH±12.5) was reduced by about 1.5 units, while the K1 slag showed a smaller decrease in pH from about 11.7 to 11.1. However, the pH reduction after carbonation of the K3 slag was observed to lead to an increased V-leaching. Vanadium leaching from the K1 slag resulted in levels above the limit values of the Dutch Soil Quality Decree, for both the untreated and carbonated slag. V-leaching from the carbonated K3 slag remained below these limit values at the relatively high pH that remained after carbonation. The V-bearing di-Ca silicate (C2S) phase has been identified as the major source of the V-leaching. It is shown that the dissolution of this mineral is limited in fresh steel slag, but strongly enhanced by carbonation, which causes the observed enhanced release of V from the K3 slag. The obtained insights in the mineral transformation reactions and their effect on pH and V-leaching provide guidance for further improvement of an accelerated carbonation technology. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
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