Organic ligand complexation reactions on aluminium-bearing mineral surfaces studied via in-situ Multiple Internal Reflection Infrared Spectroscopy, adsorption experiments, and surface complexation modelling

  • Charalambos Assos

Student thesis: Phd


Organic ligand complexation reactions at the mineral-water interface play an important role in several environmental and geochemical processes such as adsorption, dissolution, precipitation, pollutant transport, nutrient cycling, and colloidal stability. Although organic ligand surface complexation reactions have been extensively studied, a molecular level understanding regarding the mechanisms underlying the adsorption of such compounds is still limited. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the interactions between some common naturally occurring organic ligands and a common aluminosilicate clay mineral, kaolinite, using a combination of macroscopic and microscopic experimental methods. Molecular level information regarding the structure and binding mode of adsorbed species was obtained using in situ MIR-FTIR spectroscopy. Other experimental techniques including adsorption experiments, surface titrations, and surface complexation modelling were also employed in order to quantify and describe the macroscopic adsorption properties of the organic ligands examined. Three low molecular weight organic acids (oxalic, salicylic, and phthalic acid) and humic acid were chosen as representative organic ligands. Spectroscopic evidence revealed that low molecular weight organic acids are able to form both inner and outer sphere complexes on kaolinite, and the relative concentrations of these surface complexes varies with solution chemistry. Inner sphere coordination modes inferred are a mononuclear bidentate for oxalate (five-membered chelate ring) and phthalate (seven-membered chelate ring); and a mononuclear monodenate (six-membered pseudochelate ring) for salicylic acid. Similar coordination modes were shown to form on simpler mineral (hyrd)oxides. Elucidation of the coordination chemistry of these ligands can provide insights into the dissolution mechanisms of silicate minerals In contrast to low molecular weight organic acids, there was no evidence of inner sphere complexation by humic acid acids on kaolinite or gibbsite. The combined spectroscopic and macroscopic adsorption results suggest that cation bridging and van der Waals interactions are the two most probable mechanisms for the adsorption of humic acid by these mineral substrates. This finding casts doubts over the use of low molecular weight organic acids as humic acid analogs.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRoy Wogelius (Supervisor)


  • gibbsite
  • mineral dissolution
  • organic matter
  • organic acids
  • kaolinite
  • adsorption
  • IR spectroscopoy
  • surface complexation
  • multiple internal reflection
  • organic ligands

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