Characterization, sorption, and exhaustion of metal oxide nanoparticles as metal adsorbents




Engates, Karen Elizabeth

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Safe drinking water is paramount to human survival. Current treatments do not adequately remove all metals from solution, are expensive, and use many resources. Metal oxide nanoparticles are ideal sorbents for metals due to their smaller size and increased surface area in comparison to bulk media. With increasing demand for fresh drinking water and recent environmental catastrophes to show how fragile water supplies are, new approaches to water conservation incorporating new technologies like metal oxide nanoparticles should be considered as an alternative method for metal contaminant adsorbents from typical treatment methods.

This research evaluated the potential of manufactured iron, anatase, and aluminum nanoparticles (Al2O3, TiO2, Fe2O3) to remove metal contaminants (Pb, Cd, Cu, Ni, Zn) in lab-controlled and natural waters in comparison to their bulk counterparts by focusing on pH, contaminant and adsorbent concentrations, particle size, and exhaustive capabilities. Microscopy techniques (SEM, BET, EDX) were used to characterize the adsorbents. Adsorption experiments were performed using 0.01, 0.1, or 0.5 g/L nanoparticles in pH 8 solution. When results were normalized by mass, nanoparticles adsorbed more than bulk particles but when surface area normalized the opposite was observed. Adsorption was pH-dependent and increased with time and solid concentration. Aluminum oxide was found to be the least acceptable adsorbent for the metals tested, while titanium dioxide anatase (TiO2) and hematite (α-Fe2O3) showed great ability to remove individual and multiple metals from pH 8 and natural waters. Intraparticle diffusion was likely part of the complex kinetic process for all metals using Fe2O3 but not TiO2 nanoparticles within the first hour of adsorption. Adsorption kinetics for all metals tested were described by a modified first order rate equation used to consider the diminishing equilibrium metal concentrations with increasing metal oxides, showing faster adsorption rates for nanoparticles compared to bulk particles.

Isotherms were best fit with most correlations of r = 0.99 or better using the Langmuir-Freundlich equation which describes a heterogeneous surface with monolayer adsorption. Calculated rate constants and distribution coefficients (Kd) showed TiO2 nanoparticles were very good sorbents and more rapid in removing metals than other nanoparticles studied here and reported in the literature. Desorption studies concluded Pb, Cd, and Zn appear to be irreversibly sorbed to TiO2 surfaces at pH 8. TiO2 and Fe2O3 nanoparticles were capable of multiple metal loadings, with exhaustion for both adsorbents at pH 6. Exhaustion studies at pH 8 showed hematite exhausted after four consecutive cycles while anatase showed no exhaustion after 8 cycles. Their bulk counterparts exhausted in earlier cycles indicating the lack of ability to adsorb much of the multiple metals in solution. The increased surface area of TiO2 and Fe2O3 nanoparticles, coupled with strong adsorption at the pH of most natural waters and resistance to desorption of some metals, may offer a potential remediation method for removal of metals from water in the future.


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drinking water, exhaustion, metal oxides, nanoparticles, nanotechnology, sorbents



Civil and Environmental Engineering