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Activation of Hydrogen Peroxide by Iron-Containing Minerals and Catalysts in Circumneutral pH Solutions: Implications for ex situ and in situ Treatment of Contaminated Water and Soil

  • Author(s): Pham, Anh
  • Advisor(s): Sedlak, David L
  • Doyle, Fiona M
  • et al.

The decomposition of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on iron minerals can generate hydroxyl radical (*OH), a strong oxidant capable of transforming a wide range of contaminants. This reaction is critical to ex situ advanced oxidation processes employed in waste treatment systems, as well as in situ chemical oxidation processes used for soil and groundwater remediation. Unfortunately, the process in the ex situ treatment systems is relatively inefficient at circumneutral pH values. In this research, the development of iron-containing catalysts with improved efficiency was investigated. In addition, little is known about the factors that control the performance of in situ treatment systems. Another aim of this dissertation was to elucidate those factors to provide a basis for improving the efficiency of the remediation method.

Two types of silica- and alumina-containing iron (hydr)oxide catalysts were synthesized by sol-gel processing techniques (Chapter 2). Relative to iron oxides, such as hematite and goethite, these catalysts were 10 to 80 times more effective in catalyzing the production of *OH from H2O2 under circumneutral conditions. The higher efficiency makes these catalysts promising candidates for ex situ advanced oxidation processes. Moreover, because alumina and silica alter the reactivity of the iron oxides with H2O2, understanding the activity of iron associated with natural aluminosilicates and silica-containing minerals in the subsurface is crucial to explaining the variability of *OH production observed in in situ treatment systems.

In addition to the sol-gel technique used in Chapter 2, silica-containing iron (hydr)oxide catalysts were synthesized by immobilizing iron oxide onto mesoporous silica supports, such as SBA-15 (Chapter 5). The iron-containing SBA-15 was 10 times more effective than iron oxides in catalyzing the production of *OH from H2O2. Moreover, this catalyst could be employed for selective oxidation of small organic contaminants based on size exclusion. However, a major drawback of the mesoporous silica-based catalysts is their instability under circumneutral conditions (Chapter 6). The dissolution of mesoporous silica materials raises questions about their use for water treatment, because silica dissolution might compromise the behavior of the material.

To gain insight into factors that control H2O2 persistence and *OH yield in in situ processes, the decomposition of H2O2 and transformation of contaminants were investigated in the presence of iron-containing minerals and aquifer materials (Chapter 3). Consistent with the observation described in Chapter 2, iron-containing aluminosilicates were more effective than iron oxides in converting H2O2 into *OH. In both iron-containing mineral and aquifer material systems, the yield of *OH was inversely correlated with the rate of H2O2 decomposition. In the aquifer material systems, the yield also inversely correlated with the Mn content, consistent with the fact that the decomposition of H2O2 on manganese oxides does not produce *OH. The inverse correlation between Mn content and H2O2 loss rate and *OH yield suggests that the amount of Mn in aquifer materials could serve as a proxy for predicting H2O2 decomposition rates and contaminant oxidation efficiency.

In addition to the surface and structure properties of iron solids, the presence of solutes, such as dissolved silica, also affected the decomposition of H2O2 (Chapter 4). The adsorption of dissolved silica onto mineral surfaces altered the catalytic sites, thereby decreasing the reactivity of iron- and manganese-containing minerals with H2O2. Therefore, the presence of dissolved SiO2 could lead to greater persistence of H2O2 in groundwater, which should be considered in the design of in situ H2O2-based treatment systems. In addition to in situ treatment, dissolved silica also can affect the reactivity of iron-containing catalysts used in ex situ processes. Therefore, its presence in contaminated industrial wastewater should be considered when ex situ treatment systems are designed.

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