Phase transformation of silica particles in coal and biomass combustion processes.
Abstract Inhalation of respirable silica particles can cause serious lung diseases (e.g., silicosis and lung cancer), and the toxicity of respirable silica is highly dependent on its crystal form. Common combustion processes such as coal and biomass burning can provide high temperature environments that may alter the crystal forms of silica and thus affect its toxic effects. Although crystalline silica (i.e., quartz, tridymite, and cristobalite) were widely found at different temperatures during the burning processes, the sources and crystal transformation pathways of silica in the burning processes are still not well understood. Here, we investigate the crystal transformation of silica in the coal and biomass combustion processes and clarify the detailed transformation pathways of silica for the first time. Specifically, in coal burning process, amorphous silica can transform into quartz and cristobalite starting at 1100 °C, and quartz transforms into cristobalite starting at 1200 °C; in biomass burning process, amorphous silica can transform into cristobalite starting at 800 °C, and cristobalite transforms into tridymite starting at 1000 °C. These transformation temperatures are significantly lower than those predicted by the classic theory due to possibly the catalysis of coexisting metal elements (e.g., aluminum, iron, and potassium). Our results not only enable a deeper understanding on the combustion-induced crystal transformation of silica, but also contribute to the mitigation of population exposure to respirable silica.