Unraveling competition versus adsorbability of dissolved organic matter against organic micropollutants onto activated carbon

Qi Wang, Frederik Zietzschmann, Roberta Hofman-Caris, Nan Jiang, Jonas Schuster, Zheng Wang, Jianwei Yu*, Min Yang, Luuk C. Rietveld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


It was widely acknowledged that dissolved organic matter (DOM) in natural water has ubiquitous competitiveness against organic micropollutants (OMPs) during adsorption onto activated carbon. However, some (model) low molecular weight organics have been reported to adsorb onto activated carbon, but were not competitive against co-adsorbates. The objective of this study is to identify which adsorbable DOM fractions in natural water contribute to the DOM competitiveness, and what is the impact of the OMP adsorbability and initial OMP concentration on this competitiveness. We, therefore, disassociated the adsorption of DOM fractions and OMPs (carbamazepine, caffeine and sulfamethoxazole) using a two-stage adsorption procedure, removing various adsorbable DOM fractions with powdered activated carbon pretreatment and then unraveling the competitiveness against OMPs of the remaining DOM. Our results demonstrated that DOM competition was not ubiquitous for all adsorbable fractions in natural water, and ∼ 25% of the adsorbable DOM was not competitive. The poorly adsorbable DOM was shown to be a non-competitive co-adsorbate, and its complexation even elevated the adsorption capacity of one of the OMPs (carbamazepine). The amount of DOM competitors increased for weaker adsorbable OMPs, and at higher initial OMP concentrations. The variability in DOM competition, differentiated by DOM adsorbability, has advanced the understanding of DOM competition, from ubiquitous competition to variable roles (varying competitiveness/complementary adsorption) of differently adsorbable DOM fractions during OMP adsorption.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120942
Number of pages8
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository 'You share, we take care!' - Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Activated carbon
  • Adsorbability
  • Adsorption isotherm
  • Competitive adsorption
  • Dissolved organic matter (DOM)


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