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Choose your amendment wisely: Zero-valent iron nanoparticles offered no advantage over microparticles in a laboratory study on metal immobilization in a contaminated soil

Publication at Faculty of Science |


The potential use of zero-valent iron (ZVI) nanoparticles (i.e., <100 nm in size) for the remediation of metal contaminated soils has sparked a flurry of research in recent years. However, even reading a large number of these papers cannot completely dispel doubts that ZVI nanoparticles are indeed superior to ZVI microparticles (e. g., iron powder or grit) in immobilizing metals and metalloids in soils.

Our primary objective was to compare the adsorption properties of iron-based amendments (ZVI micro-and nanoparticles, natural iron oxides) supplied in a biochar matrix in soils contaminated by a copper-nickel (Cu/Ni) smelter on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The following iron-containing amendments were added to the studied soil: a composite of ZVI nanoparticles and biochar (synthesized by pyrolysis of iron-impregnated biochar), a mixture of iron powder (i.e., ZVI microparticles) with biochar, and a mixture of iron oxides (from natural ferromanganese nodules) with biochar.

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) was grown in pots on untreated and amended soils for 21 days under laboratory conditions. In our time-limited study, ZVI nanoparticles did not prove superior to ZVI microparticles or natural iron oxides at immobilizing metals in copper-and nickel-contaminated soil.

In other words, ZVI particles size was irrelevant under the experimental setup of this study in its effects on exchangeable metal concentrations, foliar elemental concentrations, and plant growth.