In this paper a comparison about kinetic behaviour, acid–base properties and copper removal capacities was carried out between two different adsorbent materials used for heavy metal removal from aqueous solutions: an aminodiacetic chelating resin as commercial product (Lewatit TP207) and a lyophilised bacterial biomass of Sphaerotilus natans. The acid–base properties of a S. natans cell suspension were well described by simplified mechanistic models without electrostatic corrections considering two kinds of weakly acidic active sites. In particular the introduction of two-peak distribution function for the proton affinity constants allows a better representation of the experimental data reproducing the site heterogeneity. A priori knowledge about resin functional groups (aminodiacetic groups) is the base for preliminary simulations of titration curve assuming a Donnan gel structure for the resin phase considered as a concentrated aqueous solution of aminodiacetic acid (ADA). Departures from experimental and simulated data can be interpreted by considering the heterogeneity of the functional groups and the effect of ionic concentration in the resin phase. Two-site continuos model describes adequately the experimental data. Moreover the values of apparent protonation constants (as adjustable parameters found by non-linear regression) are very near to the apparent constants evaluated by a Donnan model assuming the intrinsic constants in resin phase equal to the equilibrium constants in aqueous solution of ADA and considering the amphoteric nature of active sites for the evaluation of counter-ion concentration in the resin phase. Copper removal outlined the strong affinity of the active groups of the resin for this ion in solution compared to the S. natans biomass according to the complexation constants between aminodiacetic and mono-carboxylic groups and copper ions.
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