Removing nitrate with coconut activated carbon, tailored with quaternary ammonium epoxide compounds: Effect of base or acid carbon pretreatment

Chen Yuan, Fred S. Cannon, Zhiwei Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The authors tailored coconut-based activated carbons with a quaternary ammonium epoxide (QAE) surfactant that greatly increased the carbon's capacity for sorbing nitrate from water. This QAE-tailored carbon processed deionized water spiked with 50 mg/L NO3 through rapid small scale column tests; and achieved half-breakthrough at 477 bed volumes. This favorably compared to 52 bed volumes for the pristine coconut activated carbon. The QAE employed herein was QUAB 360. Most favorable pretreatment of the carbon was achieved via NaOH immersion, which created extensive phenolic functionality on the carbon's graphene edges, and raised the carbon's slurry pH to 9.3–9.6. These phenolics served as the anchor for the QUAB's epoxide reactions. This pretreatment offered the highest QUAB loading onto the carbon, which in turn netted the most nitrate removal. Per X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, favorable QUAB360 preloading incurred a 1.62% increase in the quaternary N content of these activated carbons. The phenolic functionality that followed pretreatment was discerned by Boehm titrations; and these mathematically matched with Gaussian-based models that were fitted to incremental titration data. The most favorable QUAB-loaded variants were the ones whose pretreated precursors had exhibited the highest peak of functionality in the 9.3–10.4 pH range—corresponding to the pKa of phenolics. If the precursor pH was below the 9.3–9.6 range—as induced by acids or H2O2, then the QUAB's epoxide intermediate apparently over-reacted with the hydroxylated functionality of other QUAB molecules, rather than with phenolic functionality of the carbon's graphene edge sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-27
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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