This research investigated activated adsorption of a hydrophobic organic contaminant (HOC) in mineral micropores using experimental and molecular modeling techniques. Adsorption of trichloroethylene (TCE) on a silica gel adsorbent was measured using a frontal analysis chromatography technique at atmospheric and elevated fluid pressures. Increasing the fluid pressure yielded increased TCE uptake that was not released upon lowering the pressure back to atmospheric conditions. This showed that the increase in pressure was able to rapidly induce the formation of a desorption-resistant fraction that previous investigations have shown requires months to develop at atmospheric pressure. Grand Canonical Monte Carlo (GCMC) modeling was then used to elucidate the nature of water and TCE behavior within silica micropores. The GCMC modeling showed that molecular scale packing restrictions resulted in pore fluid densities that ranged from 0.28 to 0.78 of those in the bulk solution. The modeling also showed that TCE was able to displace water from hydrophilic mineral pores due to molecular scale packing restrictions. Exothermic isosteric heats for TCE adsorption up to -27 kJ/mol were observed and were greatest in pores of 7 and 8 Å. This indicated that TCE adsorption was energetically most favorable in pores that were minimally large enough to accommodate a TCE molecule. The pressure-induced uptake appeared to result primarily from an increase in the packing density in the smallest pores. Ab initio calculations showed that small distortions of a TCE molecule from its low energy conformation require high activation energies. Results from this study indicate that activated adsorption requiring bond angle distortions in the adsorbate may be responsible for the slow attainment of adsorptive equilibrium of HOCs on microporous solids. Likewise, activated desorption from molecular-sized adsorption sites may contribute to the slow release of HOCs from aquifer sediments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry