Abstract: The degree of flocculation of aqueous suspensions of microcrystalline goethite was measured in salts of monovalent, divalent and trivalent cations at pH 6.0–6.5 over a range of ionic strengths using light scattering measurements at 650 nm. Varying concentrations of soluble humic material as well as the organic ligands, salicylate and citrate, were tested for their effect on flocculation. It was found that KCl and NaCl induced flocculation at lower ionic strength than CaCl2, while AlCl3 favored dispersion at all ionic strengths tested. The simple organic ligands promoted flocculation at low concentration, with citrate having a more pronounced effect than salicylate. At higher concentrations, these ligands reversed their effect, inducing a more dispersed state of the oxide. The organic ligand effect on dispersibility was modified by the particular metal cation present, with Ca2+ being more conducive to flocculation than K+. Soluble humic materials affected goethite flocculation in a qualitatively similar way to that of the simple organic ligands, that is low concentrations favored flocculation while high concentrations induced dispersion. This dispersing effect was partially suppressed by the presence of Ca2+, and completely suppressed by Al3+. Thus, soluble humic substances at relatively high concentrations appear to have a marked dispersing effect on goethite in the absence of polyvalent cations, and a strongly flocculating effect in their presence.
The results can be explained qualitatively by a simple oxide surface charge model, in which chemisorption of multivalent cations or organic ligands alters the surface charge. Reactions that increase the magnitude of positive or negative surface charge favor dispersion, while those that reduce the magnitude of charge favor flocculation.