January 13, 2023
Journal Article

Labile Fe(III) supersaturation controls nucleation and properties of product phases from Fe(II)-catalyzed ferrihydrite transformation


Fe(II)-catalyzed ferrihydrite (Fh) transformation to more crystalline iron (oxyhydr)oxide phases is a widely occurring geochemical process which has been extensively studied as a function of Fe(II)/Fh ratios at fixed Fh loadings. However, recent isolation of an intermediate Fe(III) species resulting from Fe(II)-Fh contact that facilitates transformation by dissolution/reprecipitation suggests that the kinetics and properties of product phases will instead depend mostly on its rate of accumulation to a critical concentration, consistent with principles in the classical nucleation theory (CNT). This suggests a dependence both on the loading of Fe(II) on the surface, which controls the rate of labile Fe(III) formation, as well as the available volume of solution, which also impacts how fast it can achieve its critical concentration to nucleate product phases. To specifically examine the latter effect, here we studied transformation of 15 mg Fh in 1 mM FeSO4 solutions at pH 7.2 in batch suspensions of 30 mL, 150 mL, and 450 mL volumes. Time-dependent concentrations of aqueous Fe(II), surface-associated Fe(II), and resulting labile Fe(III) were monitored along with bulk solids characterization as a function of time. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) was used to visualize the evolution of phases at identical locations on TEM grids. The collective results show that the rates of Fh loss and emergence of product lepidocrocite (Lp) and goethite (Gt) as well as their phase proportions, nucleation mode and morphological properties depend directly on the rate of accumulation of the labile Fe(III) precursor to its critical concentration, which in our experiments was controlled simply by varying the available volume of solution into which it enters. Statistical analyses of TEM image data suggest that while both heterogeneous and homogeneous nucleation occurred in all experiments, the former was increasingly favored at lower Fh/solution ratio due to its lower nucleation barrier being more favorable at attendant lower supersaturations of Fe(III).

Published: January 13, 2023


Sheng A., J. Liu, X. Li, L. Luo, Y. Ding, C. Chen, and X. Zhang, et al. 2020. Labile Fe(III) supersaturation controls nucleation and properties of product phases from Fe(II)-catalyzed ferrihydrite transformation. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 309. PNNL-SA-166560. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2021.06.027

Research topics