Rate constants and mechanisms for the crystallization of Al nano-goethite under environmentally relevant conditions

Ekaterina Bazilevskaya, Douglas D. Archibald, Carmen Enid Martínez

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21 Scopus citations


Mobile inorganic and organic nanocolloidal particles originate-from and interact-with bulk solid phases in soil and sediment environments, and as such, they contribute to the dynamic properties of environmental systems. In particular, ferrihydrite and (nano)goethite are the most abundant of nanocolloidal Fe oxy(hydr)oxides in these environments. We therefore investigated the ferrihydrite to goethite phase transformation using experimental reaction conditions that mimicked environmental conditions where the formation of nanocolloidal Fe oxy(hydr)oxides may occur: slow titration of dilute solutions to pH 5 at 25°C with and without 2mol% Al. Subsequently, the rate constants from 54-d nano-goethite aging/crystallization experiments at 50°C were determined using aliquots pulled for vibrational spectroscopy (including multivariate curve resolution, MCR, analyses of infrared spectra) and synchrotron-based X-ray diffraction (XRD). We also present a mechanistic model that accounts for the nano-goethite crystallization observed by the aforementioned techniques, and particle structural characteristics observed by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). In contrast to the common assumption that metastable ferrihydrite precipitates first, before it transforms to goethite, the presence of characteristic infrared bands in freshly synthesized nanoparticle suspensions indicate goethite can precipitate directly from solution under environmentally relevant conditions: low Fe concentration, ambient temperature, and pH maintained at 5. However, the presence of 2mol% Al prevented direct goethite precipitation. Rate constants obtained by fitting the contributions from the MCR-derived goethite-like component to the OH-stretching region were (7.4±1.1)×10 -7s -1 for 0% Al and (4.2±0.4)×10 -7s -1 for 2mol% Al suspensions. Rate constants derived from intensities of OH-bending infrared vibrations (795 and 895cm -1) showed similar values, within error, for both 0 and 2mol% Al nanoparticle suspensions. Thus, the presence of 2mol% Al decreased the rate constants determined from analyses of infrared OH-stretching and OH-bending vibrations by 43-57%. We postulate that dissolution re-precipitation reactions are accelerated in aggregate microenvironments by locally increased supersaturation, yielding the dominant mechanism for transformation of ferrihydrite to goethite and goethite crystal growth when bulk ion concentrations are low. Although we did observe growth of a population of prismatic goethite single crystals by TEM, there was more substantial growth of a population of polycrystalline goethite needles that appeared to retain some defects from a preceding aggregation step that we detected with DLS. Since the presence of Al hinders the dissolution of ferrihydrite, it too reduces the rate of crystallization to goethite and its crystal growth. As exemplified in this nano-particle crystallization study, the combination of advanced spectral-curve-resolution algorithms and sensitive and quantitative infrared sampling techniques opens future opportunities for the quantification of mineral phase dynamics in nanocolloidal suspensions, which is important for many aspects of environmental studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-182
Number of pages16
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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