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Nanotechnology. 2012 Jul 27;23(29):294008. doi: 10.1088/0957-4484/23/29/294008. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Adsorption uptake of synthetic organic chemicals by carbon nanotubes and activated carbons.

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  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, USA.


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have shown great promise as high performance materials for adsorbing priority pollutants from water and wastewater. This study compared uptake of two contaminants of interest in drinking water treatment (atrazine and trichloroethylene) by nine different types of carbonaceous adsorbents: three different types of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs), three different sized multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs), two granular activated carbons (GACs) and a powdered activated carbon (PAC). On a mass basis, the activated carbons exhibited the highest uptake, followed by SWNTs and MWNTs. However, metallic impurities in SWNTs and multiple walls in MWNTs contribute to adsorbent mass but do not contribute commensurate adsorption sites. Therefore, when uptake was normalized by purity (carbon content) and surface area (instead of mass), the isotherms collapsed and much of the CNT data was comparable to the activated carbons, indicating that these two characteristics drive much of the observed differences between activated carbons and CNT materials. For the limited data set here, the Raman D:G ratio as a measure of disordered non-nanotube graphitic components was not a good predictor of adsorption from solution. Uptake of atrazine by MWNTs having a range of lengths and diameters was comparable and their Freundlich isotherms were statistically similar, and we found no impact of solution pH on the adsorption of either atrazine or trichloroethylene in the range of naturally occurring surface water (pH = 5.7-8.3). Experiments were performed using a suite of model aromatic compounds having a range of π-electron energy to investigate the role of π-π electron donor-acceptor interactions on organic compound uptake by SWNTs. For the compounds studied, hydrophobic interactions were the dominant mechanism in the uptake by both SWNTs and activated carbon. However, comparing the uptake of naphthalene and phenanthrene by activated carbon and SWNTs, size exclusion effects appear to be more pronounced with activated carbon materials, perhaps due to smaller pore sizes or larger adsorption surface areas in small pores.

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