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James Amonette

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
PO Box 999
MSIN: K8-96
Richland, WA 99352


James E. Amonette, Ph.D., specializes in the areas of environmental geochemistry and soil mineralogy. He has a strong interest in the structure and chemistry of minerals and in the application of spectroscopic techniques, such as laser photoacoustic, Mössbauer, electron paramagnetic, infrared, and x-ray absorption/scattering, to characterize the solid phases and to predict and monitor the reactions associated with the presence of hazardous wastes in soil environments. In recent years he has expanded his interests to include ways of capturing and sequestering C in soils and geological formations. Currently, he is currently involved in projects related to 1) the redox chemistry of iron-bearing clays and nanoparticles and its impact on the reductive degradation pathways of chlorinated hydrocarbons, 2) terrestrial soil carbon sequestration with a focus on amendments (such as fly ash and charcoal), management regimes (moisture), and soil gas monitoring, and 3) monitoring of leakage rates from geologic carbon sequestration.

Dr. Amonette’s contributions include dissertation work on the role of structural iron in mica weathering, analytical techniques for the determination of ferrous iron and for the semi-quantitative modal analysis of clay minerals in soils, reduction of iron-bearing smectites for remediation processes, synthesis and properties of hydrotalcites for adsorption of anions, modification of natural layer silicates for adsorption of Cs and Sr, and a chapter on the environmental chemistry of iron that includes a theoretical approach for estimating reduction potentials for iron in silicate minerals. He continues to focus much of his work on zerovalent and ferrous iron chemistry, and its potential use for environmental remediation.

For nearly a decade, Dr. Amonette co-led a team working on the fundamental molecular-scale aspects of carbonate mineral dissolution and growth processes using a combination of atomic-force microscopy and theoretical calculations. More recently, Dr. Amonette has focused on the catalytic mechanisms that promote the formation of humic materials. The chemistry of charcoal and fly ash are of particular interest as these common materials could be applied as soil amendments to promote carbon equestration. He is particularly interested in the potential use of bio-char (i.e., charcoal produced during biomass pyrolysis) as a promising way to sequester carbon in a stable form for thousands of years.

Dr. Amonette has worked on the precipitation/dissolution chemistry of Cr(III) and Cr(VI) in soils. He identified the solid solution Ba(S,Cr)O4 as a possible phase controlling the aqueous concentrations of Cr(VI) species and determined the solubility products of several Ba(S,Cr)O4 solids. He also provided infrared spectroscopic evidence for the existence of the amorphous (Fe,Cr)(OH)3 solid solution and for the association of carbonate with Cr in the structure of this compound. Recently, he used laser photoacoustic spectroscopy to measure the kinetics and thermodynamics of trace-level chromate sorption to iron oxides.

Dr. Amonette has more than 28 years of research experience and has been with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) since 1986. He has authored or coauthored more than 57 peer reviewed scientific journal publications, 20 book chapters, 40 technical reports, six patents mainly in the area of photoacoustic spectroscopy, and a book on quantitative methods in soil mineralogy.

A list of recent publications appears at the end of this page.

Research Interests

  • Environmental geochemistry
  • Soil mineralogy
  • Application of spectroscopic techniques, such as laser photoacoustic, Mössbauer, electron paramagnetic,
  • infrared, and x-ray absorption/scattering, to characterize the solid phases and to predict and monitor the reactions that occur in soil environments.
  • Carbon sequestration (terrestrial and geological)

Education and Credentials

  • Ph.D., Soil Chemistry, Iowa State University
  • M.S., Soil Chemistry, Iowa State University
  • B.S., Soil Science, New Mexico State University

Affiliations and Professional Service

  • Chair, Soil Mineralogy Division, Soil Science Society of America, 1994
  • Associate Editor, Soil Mineralogy Division, Soil Science Society of America Journal, 1994-1996
  • Bouyoucos Conference Co-Organizer, Soil Science Society of America, 2004
  • Associate Editor, Clays and Clay Minerals, 1998 - present
  • Council Member, Clay Minerals Society, 1996-1998; 2006-2008
  • Meeting Co-Chair, Clay Minerals Society, 2004
  • American Chemical Society

Awards and Recognitions

  • 2008 Fitzner/Eberhardt Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science and Engineering Education
  • R&D100 Award for "In-Situ Redox Manipulation," 1998
  • "Chet Cooper Mentor of the Year, 2000" Presented by the Environmental and Health Sciences Division at PNNL for Dr. Amonette’s work with students, teachers and postdoctoral appointees over many years.

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