Polyethyleneimine modification of activated fly ash and biochar for enhanced removal of natural organic matter from water via adsorption

Hai Bang Truong, Ikechukwu A. Ike, Yong Sik Ok, Jin Hur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, fly ash (FA) and biochar (BC), two common industrial byproducts, were activated and surface-modified with polyethyleneimine (PEI) to enhance their capacities to remove natural organic matter (NOM) from water via adsorption. Different fluorescent components were identified using fluorescence excitation-emission matrix coupled with parallel factor analysis (EEM-PARAFAC) to explore the individual adsorption behaviors of different organic constituents in a bulk NOM. The NOM adsorption was quantitatively examined via adsorption isotherm and kinetics models. Compared to the pristine adsorbents, the functionalized adsorbent with increased surface area and positive surface charge achieved higher NOM adsorption. By evaluating the adsorptive behaviors of UV-absorbing and fluorescent moieties, it was concluded that the operative mechanism of adsorption included electrostatic attraction, hydrogen bonding, and π-π interaction. At the optimal pH of 3, the surface-modified FA and BC (i.e., FA-PEI and BC-PEI) had adsorption capacities for NOM that were ∼3 times higher than the capacities of the pristine materials. Due to its aromatic features, π-π interaction may have enhanced BC and BC-PEI selective adsorption of aromatic NOM components compared to FA and FA-PEI. Kinetic modelling showed that the mesopores of FA-PEI were available for NOM adsorption and diffusion of NOM molecules into the mesoporous structures was rate-limiting. On the other hand, PEI-modification may have further reduced NOM diffusion through the narrow micropores in BC such that external adsorption primarily occurred on BC-PEI. The modified adsorbents showed a faster adsorption kinetics than the pristine counterparts and a high durability in repeated adsorption-desorption cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125454
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar


  • Adsorbent
  • Biochar
  • Fly ash
  • Natural organic matter
  • Polyethyleneimine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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