In order to reduce the impact of nitrogen pollution and to increase the agronomic value of plant wastes to be reused as organic fertilizer, we have investigated the removal of ammonium from aqueous solutions onto cactus leave fibers (CLF), and the mechanisms involved in the retention of ammonium at CLF surface. The results showed that ammonium retention onto these fibers occurred for a wide pH (6-10) and temperature ranges (20-60°C) and the biosorption potential of CLF increased with temperature from 1.4 to 2.3mgg-1 for initial concentration of 50mgL-1. The modeling studies showed that the ammonium biosorption was well described by the pseudo-second-order model, predicting therefore, chemisorption interactions-type at earlier stages and by intraparticle diffusion at later stages. Biosorption is governed by film diffusion process at higher concentrations and by particle diffusion process at higher temperatures. The surface of CLF determined by SEM revealed the presence of cracks and cavities which may allow the intraparticle diffusion and the ion exchange processes. Moreover, FTIR and EDX analysis before and after ammonium retention showed that the main mechanisms involved in the removal of ammonium were the ionic exchange by calcium ions as well as H+ and the complexation with carboxylic, alcoholic and phenolic groups.
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