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Geochem Trans. 2012 Jan 26;13(1):1. doi: 10.1186/1467-4866-13-1.

The Effect of the CO32- to Ca2+ Ion activity ratio on calcite precipitation kinetics and Sr2+ partitioning.

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University of Idaho-Idaho Falls Idaho Falls, 1776 Science Center Drive, Idaho Falls, ID 83402.



A proposed strategy for immobilizing trace metals in the subsurface is to stimulate calcium carbonate precipitation and incorporate contaminants by co-precipitation. Such an approach will require injecting chemical amendments into the subsurface to generate supersaturated conditions that promote mineral precipitation. However, the formation of reactant mixing zones will create gradients in both the saturation state and ion activity ratios (i.e., aCO32-/aCa2+). To better understand the effect of ion activity ratios on CaCO3 precipitation kinetics and Sr2+ co-precipitation, experiments were conducted under constant composition conditions where the supersaturation state (Ω) for calcite was held constant at 9.4, but the ion activity ratio (r=aCO32-/aCa2+) was varied between 0.0032 and 4.15.


Calcite was the only phase observed, by XRD, at the end of the experiments. Precipitation rates increased from 41.3 ± 3.4 μmol m-2 min-1 at r = 0.0315 to a maximum rate of 74.5 ± 4.8 μmol m-2 min-1 at r = 0.306 followed by a decrease to 46.3 ± 9.6 μmol m-2 min-1 at r = 1.822. The trend was simulated using a simple mass transfer model for solute uptake at the calcite surface. However, precipitation rates at fixed saturation states also evolved with time. Precipitation rates accelerated for low r values but slowed for high r values. These trends may be related to changes in effective reactive surface area. The aCO32-/aCa2+ ratios did not affect the distribution coefficient for Sr in calcite (DPSr2+), apart from the indirect effect associated with the established positive correlation between DPSr2+ and calcite precipitation rate.


At a constant supersaturation state (Ω = 9.4), varying the ion activity ratio affects the calcite precipitation rate. This behavior is not predicted by affinity-based rate models. Furthermore, at the highest ion ratio tested, no precipitation was observed, while at the lowest ion ratio precipitation occurred immediately and valid rate measurements could not be made. The maximum measured precipitation rate was 2-fold greater than the minima, and occurred at a carbonate to calcium ion activity ratio of 0.306. These findings have implications for predicting the progress and cost of remediation operations involving enhanced calcite precipitation where mineral precipitation rates, and the spatial/temporal distribution of those rates, can have significant impacts on the mobility of contaminants.

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