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Research Article - (2015) Volume 5, Issue 1

Adsorption of Heavy Metals Cations onto Zeolite Material from Aqueous Solution

Maria Visa1* and Nicoleta Popa2
1Department of Renewable Energy Systems and Recycling, Transilvania University of Brasov, Romania
2Department of Forest District Teliu, National Administration of State Forests Romsilva, Romania
*Corresponding Author: Maria Visa, Department of Renewable Energy Systems and Recycling, Transilvania University of Brasov, Eroilor 29, 500036 Brasov, Romania, Fax: 0040-268-410525 Email:


Increased urbanization and industrialization led to excessive release of wastes into the environment; one of them, causing many problems not only to the environment but also to human health, is fly ash resulted from coal combustion. One of the solutions for solving these problems would be fly ash reutilization as an adsorbent for wastewater treatment and for obtaining new and efficient materials such as zeolites. Class “F” fly ash collected from C.H.P. Craiova from Romania was used for obtaining new zeolite materials for advanced wastewater treatment. This material was characterized by AFM, XRD, FTIR, SEM to outline the crystalline and morphology modifications. Hydrothermal modified fly ash using NaOH was used for heavy metals removal (Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+) from synthetic wastewaters containing one, two and three pollutants. For obtaining a maximum efficiency during the adsorption process the adsorption conditions (contact time, optimum amount of substrate) were optimized. These parameters were further used in thermodynamic and kinetic modeling of the adsorption processes. The uptake of Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+ was followed by a Langmuir adsorption isotherm and the maximum uptake capacity was estimated to be 95.24 mg/g Cd2+, 107.52 mg/g Cu2+ from aqueous solution with two cations. Correlated with the surface structure, composition and morphology the adsorption kinetic mechanisms and the substrate capacities are further discussed.

Keywords: Heavy metals; Adsorption; Filtration; Zeolite; Wastewater treatment


The pollution of water is one big problem in each country. More hundred pollutants are released every day into the environment from numerous branches of industries. The main industries responsible for large amount of wastewater with complex pollutant load are: the mining and extractive industry, electroplating and metal surface treatment processes, metallurgy, metal coating and plastics. Water interaction with chemical substances resulting wastewaters with a large quantities of heavy metals, different organic or inorganic pollutants and the last target are ecosystem and the health of humans.

Many compounds of heavy metals are easy soluble in water and can be adsorbed by living organisms part of the food chain. Some heavy metals (copper, cobalt, iron, manganese, vanadium, strontium and zinc) are accepted in small concentration for living organisms but excessive levels of essential metals can be detrimental to the organisms. Non–essential heavy metals (including cadmium, lead and zinc) are dangerous for living organisms [1,2].

Heavy metals are persistent pollutants, non-biodegradable and can be accumulated easily in organisms even at low concentrations, causing serious illness; common effects on humans are described as: increased salivation, severe stomach irritations leading to vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, choking, high blood pressure, iron-poor blood, liver disease, pancreas and nerve or brain damage, poisoning by ingestion include vomiting, vomiting of blood, hypotension, coma, jaundice, and gastrointestinal pain [3,4]. For avoiding flora, fauna and health problems, the discharge limits are strict and require advanced wastewater treatment processes [5,6].

On the other hand the heavy metals can deactivate the active sludge (poisoning the bacteria) from the secondary treatment plants; therefore the chemical treatment must remove heavy metals before the biological step.

The conventional techniques used for heavy metal removal are expensive and with average efficiency. The most common and widely used methods for advanced heavy metal removal are: chemical precipitation, flotation, flocculation, sedimentation, solvent extraction, oxidation/reduction and dialysis/electro-dialysis, reverse osmosis, ultra filtration, electrochemical deposition, ion exchange and adsorption e.g.

Choosing one or more complex solutions is subject of efficiency and cost analysis reported at large quantity of wastewater. Among these, adsorption technologies have several advantages: easy operation and well known technology, inexpensive equipment, less sludge, adsorbents’ reuse after desorption. In water the heavy metals cations are hydrated with different bipolar water molecules.

Heavy metals (cadmium, copper, zinc, nickel) removal by adsorption was reported on, sugar beet pulp [7], bituminous coal, peat [8], clay and diatomite [9] natural zeolite [10] or on zeolite obtained by conversion of fly ash [11].

This paper presents the synthesis, characterization and results of adsorption of zeolite ZCR40 obtained from fly ash by hydrothermal method, which were used as adsorbents in removal of Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+ from mono-, di-, and three-component systems.

Materials And Methods

Raw Fly Ash was collected from the electrostatic filters in the combined heat and power plant S.E. Craiova II, Romania. The content of the main constituents are presented in Table 1.

Compound % in FA Compound % in FA Compound % in FA
SiO2 46.13 MgO 5.24 MnO -
Al2O3 21.39 K2O 0.5-2 P2O5 -
Fe2O3 10.85 Na2O 0.2-0.6 LOI* -
CaO 10.65 TiO2 <1% SiAlFe** 78.37

Table 1: The composition of fly ash (FA) - C.H.P. Craiova [%].

The total percentage of SiO2, Al2O3 and Fe2O3 is 78.37% (above 70%),thus, according the ASTM C618 classification, the fly ash –S.E.Craiova II., is of class F [12].

Fly ash was washed in ultra-pure water by stirring up (100 rpm), at room temperature, for 48h, to remove the soluble compounds, until constant pH was reached, at the value of 11.5. The water resulted after washing FA had an ionic conductivity of K=630 [μS/cm] and a TDS value of 640 mg/L, as result of the soluble compounds dissolution: CaO, MgO, Na2O, K2O. The dry fly ash was subject sieving to determine the size distribution Table 2.

Raw FA S.E. Craiova II Particle size distribution [%]
20μm 40μm 100μm <100μm
5,2 53,5 31,8 9,5

Table 2: Particle size distribution [%].

The zeolite materials were obtained from washed fly ash (FACRw) with 40 μm granulometry by mixed with NaOH solution 3N in autoclave for 5h at 150°C. The fractions >40 μm can be used for obtaining geo-polimers, for cement, bricks, stone blocks. After running time the material was washed with ultra-pure water till constant pH, filtrated, dried at 105-120°C overnight and was analyzed. This new material denoted (ZCR40) was used in adsorption experiments.

The crystalline structures of the FAw and ZCR40 were evaluated by XRD (Bruker D8 Discover Diffractometer). The AFM images (Ntegra Spectra, MT-NDTmodel BL222RNTE) were used for surface morphology studies. The AFM was used to characterize the uniformity, grain size and pores size distribution of the zeolite material. Image analysis was carried out by means of WSxM software, to evaluate the pore size distribution [13]. By using scanning electron microscopy (SEM, S-3400N– Hitachi) further surface investigations were done at an accelerating voltage of 20 kV. Surface compositions of zeolite ZCR40 was measured before and after adsorption using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS Thermo Scientific Ultra Dry). By using porosity analysis and BET surface (Autosorb-IQ-MP, Quantachrome Instruments) characterization of the surface was completed.

The new substrates (ZCR40) were used in adsorption experiments for removing heavy metals from synthetic wastewater loaded with Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+ cations.

Adsorption experiments

Batch adsorption experiments were carried out under mechanical stirring, at room temperature 20-22°C considering that the vapors pressure of water at this temperature is low (0.023-0.024 bar), thermosetting was not necessary.

Three series of experimental test of adsorption were done:

Adsorption on ZCR40 substrate in solution containing one, two and three pollutants:

• Cd2+/Cu2+ from mono-cationic system, under mechanical stirring;

• Cd2+ + Cu2+ from di-cationic system, under mechanical stirring;

• Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+ from three-cationic system, under mechanical stirring.

In all experiments, the pollutant systems were synthetically prepared using bidistilled water and CdCl2*2.5 H2O (Scharlau Chemie S.A., c<98%), CuCl2*2H2O (Scharlau Chemie S.A., c<98%) and NiCl2*6H2O (Scharlau Chemie S.A., c<98%). The experiments were done using heavy metals solutions in concentration of range of CCd2+= 0.560 mg/L, CCu2+=0.330 mg/L and CNi2+=0.300 mg/L.

The optimal contact time was evaluated in suspension, 0.1 g ZCR40 in 50 mL of equimolar multi-cation solutions of cadmium, copper and nickel; aliquots were taken at certain moments (10, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 min), when stirring was briefly interrupted and after filtration the volumes of supernatant were analyzed. The residual metal concentration in the aqueous solution was analyzed by AAS (Analytic Jena, ZEEnit 700), at λCd=228.8 nm, λCu=324.75 nm and λNi=232.00 nm. The working pH was in the range of 5.4-6.3. Preliminary experiments proved that heavy metal losses due to the adsorption to the container walls and to the filter unit 0.22 μm were negligible.

Results And Discussion

Characterization of the substrates

The composition of silicon-aluminous of the fly ash is confirmed by XRD spectra, Figure 1. The major crystalline components of raw fly ash are: αSiO2 (quartz) identified by the sharp peaks in the range of 2θ =26° and hematite (Fe2O3).


Figure 1a: The danger signal can induce immature dendritic cell to mature dendritic cell.


Figure 1b: The danger signal can induce immature dendritic cell to mature dendritic cell.


Figure 1c: The danger signal can induce immature dendritic cell to mature dendritic cell.

The diffractogram (Figure 1) data show that some compounds: SiO2 (quartz), Li3Fe2(PO4)3 (lithium iron phosphate), Rb2(FeO4) (rubidium iron oxide) from FACRw are or not presented in low percentage, while the percent of sodium aluminum hydrate (Na6Al6Si10O32*12H2O), sodium aluminum hydroxide hydrate (Na8(AlSiO4)6*(OH)2*4H2O) sodium aluminum cyamide hydrare ((Na8A16Si10O24 (CN)2*xH2O),) sodium aluminum silicate hydrate Na8(AlSiO4)6*4H2O and other phases of the aluminosilicates typical the zeolites is increased in the zeolite material (ZCR40). The quartz syn, hematite and manganese oxide are in small proportion. The area picks of new alumino-silicates phases are higher. The hydrothermal process of FACRw further promotes the surface interactions, including dissolution, re-crystallization processes that confirm chemical restructuring. The crystalline phases increased from 38.5% at 51.1% for ZCR40.

An evaluation criterion of raw fly ash into zeolites can be the proportion of quartz from raw fly ash converted to aluminosilicates using equation (1).

image (1)

R value is low for ZCR40 materials showing high conversion of SiO2 from FACRw to crystalline zeolite (NaP1) by hydrothermal treatment. The content of quartz and of mullite was found to be mainly responsible which hinder formation of zeolite and their activity [14-20].

The composition of crystalline phases, crystalline degree, and morphological changes are presented in Table 3.

Crystalline degree Morphology modifications
Sample Composition of crystalline phases Crystalline degree
R Specific surface area (BET)
Micropores volume
Average pores diameter [nm]
FACRw Quartz, SiO2, hexagonal (31.6%)
Graphite, hexagonal (4.83%)
Na/K Aluminosilicates /hydrate  (57.45%)
Hematite, Fe2O3, romboedric (5.65%),Mn3O4, tetragonal  (0.46%)
  38.5 - 4.09 0.004 27.2
ZCR40 Quartz, SiO2, hexagonal  (6,96%); Hematite, Fe2O3, romboedhric (2,41%
TiO2, monoclinic (1.27%)
Mn3O4, tetragonal (1.56%)
Aluminosilicates simple/hydratated de Na/K(87,8%)
58.50.1 0.07 54.09 0,003 17.98

Table 3: The characteristics of the raw fly ashes and of the zeolite material.

Other information related to the morphology and characteristics of the surface were obtained from the AFM and SEM micrographs (Figures 2 and 3).


Figure 2: AFM topography, average roughness, phase’s distribution and pore distribution.


Figure 3: Scanning Electron Microscopic images (a) FACRw; (b) ZCR40.

These AFM images were used to characterize the surface morphology: the uniformity, grain size and pore size distribution [19] of the samples Figure 2. The FACRw and ZCR40 have a rough surface with larger pores/voids heterogeneously distributed, confirmed by the pores/voids distribution curves with two or three maxima.

Optimizing fly ash substrate by washing and hydrothermal treating the roughness, RMS roughness show a decrease from 74.1 nm to 45.5 nm, from 284.34 nm to 104.52 nm respectively. The roughness can give information knowing the level of investigation (the millimetric scale usually permits one to distinguish the main surface treatments) [15]. These chemical report (Si/Al) and structural changes are mirrored in morphology modifications, Figures 2a and 2b resulting large differences in the substrates’ affinity for heavy metals. On phase’s distributions images, it can be seen more agglomerates in the new material adsorbent so more macro-pores and meso-pores are ready to lodge the cations of heavy metals.

The SEM images Figure 3 show significant modifications during the fly ashes processing. Most FACRw particles are spherical and in zeolite materials large agglomerates are formed (Figure 3).

The polar and disperse contributions to the surface energy of ZCR40 was calculated according to the fmodel developed by Owens, Wendt, Robel and Kaelble and are presented in Table 4.

Substrate Surface Energy
Disperse contribution
Polar contribution
ZCR40 22.44 4.17 18.31

Table 4: Surface energy data for the substrates.

The data show a large polar component, recommending the zeolite ZCR40 as a good adsorption substrate for heavy metals cations.

The zeolite material ZCR40 has composition to zeolites leading to similar types of vibrations. The asymmetric stretch of the Si-O-Si or Si-O-Al bonds corresponds to the peak positioned around 1000 cm-1. Moreover, the water molecules associated with the cations and hydrogen bonded to the oxygen ions of the framework; explain the peak recorded at 1640.38 cm-1, characteristic to the bended mode in the water molecules [16,17]. The characteristic peaks for zeolite are known from the literature [18,19] as being positioned at 421.89 cm-1; 666.03 cm-1 and 956.02 cm-1, (Figure 4 and Table 5).


Figure 4: FT-IR spectra of the FACRw and ZCR40.

Compounds Wavenumber Allocation
Water 1630…1640 VibrationH-OorH-OH from reaction productshydroalumino-silicate
Kaolin/zeolites 1028…1032 AsymmetricstretchingvibrationofSi-O-Si bonds
Silicates of Ti/ zeolites 950…961 AsymmetricalstretchingvibrationofSi-O-Ti /asymmetrical stretching
Feldspars/zeolite 660...670 Symmetricstretching vibrationtiesAl-O and Si-O
Hematite/zeolite 570…590 BendingVibrationof the linksAl-O, Si-O, Al-O-Si andFe-O
Kaolin/zeolites 400…420 Vibrationoftheopen pores,bandO-Si-O

Table 5: IR bands characteristic of the zeolites material.

Adsorption of heavy metals on ZCR40 substrate

The adsorption experiments of Cd2+, Cu2+ and Ni2+ on the zeolite substrate ZCR40 were carried out as a function of contact time, adsorbent dose and heavy metals concentration at optimum contact time. Maximum removal efficiency (η) of Cd2+, Cu2+ respectively Ni2+ cations was evaluated using the following eqn (2).

image (2)

where: CiHM - the initial concentration and CeHM - equilibrium momentary concentration of the heavy metals (HM).

Adsorption equilibrium is reached in most cases after 60 min with stabilization at 90 min (Figures 5a, 5b and 5c). These values are acceptable for technology process so each of these materials can be further used for technology transfer.


Figure 5a: Efficiency of heavy metals (Cd2+, Cu2+, Ni2+) removal from mono-cationic system on ZCR40.


Figure 5b: Efficiency of heavy metals (Cd2+, Cu2+) removal from bi-cationic system on ZCR40.


Figure 5c: Efficiency of heavy metals (Cd2+, Cu2+, Ni2+) removal from three-cationic system on ZCR40.

An important parameter governing the efficiency of the adsorption of heavy metals is the volume of the cation, copper cation (hydrated with water molecules 4 .. 6) having the smallest volume. The significant difference observed between single and binary metal adsorption is in the initial metal removal rate. Slightly lower initial metal removal rate observed in the case of binary adsorption is probably due to of competing hydrated metal ions present in solution. The effect amount of ZCR40 vas analyzed and presented in Figure 6.


Figure 6: Influence of the amount of CRZ40 adsorbent on the removal efficiency.

The maximum of efficiency is obtained after 90 min. in all cases of adsorption and was further used in next experiments. Increasing the amount of ZCR40 substrate will be an increase of amount of active site.

Heavy metals cations can establish bonds with active sites (≡ SiO-) and (≡ AlO-) forming complex structure accordind to reaction (3, 4):

2 (≡SiO-) + M2+ → (≡ Si-O)2 M      (3)

2 (≡ AlO-) + M2+ → (≡ Al-O)2 M      (4)

The effect of concentration of Cd2+, Cu2+, Ni2+ solutions on the adsorption was studies at optimal time (90 min.) and optimal mass (0.35 g ZCR40) Figure 7.


Figure 7: Effect of initial concentration on ZCR40 substrate.

High adsorption efficiency for (Cd2+, Cu2+, Ni2+) cations are registration at the concentration up to 0.0003125 val/L.

The adsorption capacity Z (Figure 8) is a function of the initial cation concentration, the adsorbent dose, the energy surface of adsorbent (polar contribution) and the nature solute – sorbent interaction.

The adsorption kinetic

The metal uptake qe (mg/g) was evaluated for the kinetic studies by using the initial and current, t, heavy metal concentrations (cication and ctcation) in a given solution volume (V=50 mL) for a given amount of ZCR40 (ms = 0.1 g) as given in eq. (5):

image (5)

By using the following equations (6) and (7) the kinetics of the heavy metals adsorption were modeled:

• The pseudo first-order eq. (6) [20]:

image (6)

where KL is the Lagergreen constant, qe is the equilibrium uptake value and qt the current metal uptake.

• The pseudo-second order kinetic eq. (7) [21,22]:

image (7)

where k2 is rate constant.

The inter particle diffusion is another possible kinetic model that can be applied in adsorption processes eq. (8), [23].

image (8)

where kid is rate constant and C is the intercept at the ordinate. If the plot of qt vs. t1/2, according to eq.(8), gives a straight line, then intra particle diffusion was involved in the adsorption process; in addition, if the straight line passes through the origin, then the intra-particle diffusion was the rate-limiting step [24]. Generally, the intercept, C, gives an idea about boundary layer thickness: the larger value of intercept, the greater the boundary layer diffusion effect is shown in Table 6 [25].

Substrate Pseudo- first order kinettics Pseudo-second order kinetics Interparticle diffusion
R2 k2
qe [mg/g] R2 Kid
C R2
ZCRs 40 0.030 0.964 0.081 129.87 0.996 5.069 63.414 0.844
ZCR40 0.028 0.904 0.203 86.207 0.928 5.964 22.128 0.928
ZCR40 0.021 0.946 0.5156 27.701 0.988 1.717 7.702 0.848
ZCR40 0.015 0.907 0.309 81.967 0.983 2.155 9.502 0.906
ZCR40 - 0.229 0.214 36.364 0.892 - - 0.225
ZCR40 0.012 0.853 0.194 86.957 0.981 3.232 38.904 0.829
ZCR40 - 0.525 0.019 13.316 0.862 - - 0.192

Table 6: Kinetic parameters of heavy metals adsorption.

The adsorption of Cu2+ cation on porous materials from mono-, diand three-components system can by modeled with all kinetic model presented above, Table 6. These models is based on the assumption that the rate limiting step may be a chemical adsorption involving between the adsorbent (ZCR40) and the adsorbate [12,19].

Adsorption isotherm

The adsorption isotherm data were experimentally obtained based on: the optimized contact time (90 min), the substrate amount (0.35 g ZCR40 in 50 mL suspention). The adsorption parameters were calculated considering the Langmuir and Freundlich equations (9) and (10) [26].

the Langmuir isotherm – linearization:

image (9)

- where qmax (mg/g) represents the maximum monolayer adsorption capacity, a is a constant related to the adsorption free energy, qeq is the amount of metal ions adsorbed from the solution with the equilibrium concentration, Ceq.

the Freundlich isotherm – linearization:

image (10)

- where kf is Freundlich constant, an indicator of the adsorption capacity, and the 1/n dimensionless parameter is a measure of the adsorption density. The adsorption parameters are presented in Table 7.

Substrate Langmuir Parameters Freundlich Parameters
a R2 n KF R2
ZCR40 95.238 0.0004 0.997 - - 0.285
ZCR40 107.527 0.0003 0.917 - - 0.801
ZCR40 36.764 0.016 0.920 - - 0.657
ZCR40 53.763 0.001 0.993 - - 0.660
ZCR40 18.657 0.04 0.978 - - 0.652
ZCR40 13.774 0.001 0.970 - - 0.896
ZCR40 26.525 0.066 0.999 - - 0.665

Table 7: Adsorption isotherm parameters.

The Langmuir model fits the equilibrium data much better than the Freundlich model for this adsorbent Table 4. Accordingly with table data the adsorption was rather homogeneous than heterogeneous and rather monolayer than multilayer for all cations studied.


Adsorption efficiency of cadmium, cooper and nickel cations is reduced compared to the adsorption efficiencies of mono-cationic systems, indicating competition on similar active centers (homogeneity substrates). Competition between the different metal ions for surface sites occurs and is dependent on the characteristics of the ions, substrate (crystalline phases, and morphological changes), respectively.

The adsorption isotherms and kinetic data fitted well the Langmuir and pseudo-second order kinetic models, respectively.

The affinities order of ZCR40 for the divalent metal ions reported is Cu2+> Cd2+>Ni2+ at optimized contact time 90 min., substrate dose 7g ZCR40/L from multicomponent solution.

This adsorbent material (ZCR40) presents several advantages such as high specific surface area, uniform pore distribution, thermal and mechanical stability, high adsorption capacity, and high fictionalizations ability.

The zeolitic material ZCR40 can be recommended for technologic wastewater treatment.


The paper was supported by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS – UEFISCDI, project number PNII-RUTE- 2012-3-0177/2013


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Citation: Visa M, Popa N (2015) Adsorption of Heavy Metals Cations onto Zeolite Material from Aqueous Solution. J Membra Sci Technol 5:133.

Copyright: © 2015 Visa M, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.