The missing link between carbon nanotubes, dissolved organic matter and organic pollutants

Maya Engel*, B. Chefetz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Ternary interactions between carbon nanotubes (CNTs), dissolved organic matter (DOM) and small organic molecules (namely low molecular mass organic pollutants) are of great importance since they can affect the reactivity and fate of all involved compartments in the environment. This review thoroughly assesses existing knowledge on the adsorption of DOM and small organic molecules by CNTs, while giving special attention to (i) the complex nature of DOM, (ii) the ternary rather than binary interactions between CNTs, DOM and the small organic molecules and (iii) the DOM-organic molecule interactions. We discuss in detail the main factors influencing DOM adsorption by CNTs and attempt to differentiate between the role of DOM composition and conformation. We then outline how the presence of DOM influences the adsorption of small organic molecules by CNTs, considering the introduction stage of DOM and the impact of the organic molecule's properties. DOM adsorption by CNTs is highly dependent on its composition and is governed by the size, hydrophobicity and aromaticity of DOM. DOM adsorption was found to alter the assembly of the CNTs, resulting in changes in the distribution of adsorption sites. Small organic molecules may adsorb to residual surface area on the CNTs, to DOM-coating the CNTs or remain in solution, possibly complexed with DOM. This results in their suppressed or enhanced adsorption in comparison to DOM-free media. The physicochemical properties of the organic molecules (hydrophobicity, size, structure and charge) also play a major role in this process. We present knowledge gaps that need clarification such as the extent of DOM desorption from CNTs, the amount of co-adsorbed DOM during competition with small organic molecules for adsorption sites on the CNTs and the behavior of CNTs under realistic conditions. More data generated from experiments using natural DOM rather than dissolved humic substances are required to improve our understanding of the interactions between CNTs and small organic molecules in realistic environmental scenarios. This review provides conclusions and research directions needed to evaluate the nature of interactions between CNTs, DOM and organic pollutants in aquatic systems affected by anthropogenic activities.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number101993
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Binding
  • Contaminant
  • Humic acid
  • Nanomaterial
  • Natural organic matter


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