Understanding nitrate reactions with zerovalent iron using tafel analysis and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy

Dhananjay Mishra, James Farrell

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84 Scopus citations


This study investigated the reaction mechanisms of nitrate (NO 3-) with zerovalent iron (ZVI) media under conditions relevant to groundwater treatment using permeable reactive barriers (PRB). Reaction rates of NO3- with freely corroding and with cathodically or anodically polarized iron wires were measured in batch reactors. Tafel analysis and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) were used to investigate the reactions occurring on the iron surfaces. Reduction of NO 3- by corroding iron resulted in near stoichiometric production of NO2-, which did not measurably react in the absence of added Fe(II). Increasing NO3- concentrations resulted in increasing corrosion currents. However, EIS and Tafel analyses indicated that there was little direct reduction of NO3- at the ZVI surface, despite the presence of water reduction. This behavior can be attributed to formation of a microporous oxide on the iron surfaces that blocked reduction of NO3- and NO2- but did not block water reduction. This finding is consistent with previous observations that NO3- impedes reduction of organic compounds by ZVI. Nitrite concentrations greater than 4 mM resulted in anodic passivation of the iron, but passivation was not observed with NO 3- concentrations as high as 96 mM. This indicates that the passivating oxide preventing NO3- reduction was permeable toward cation migration. Since reaction with Fe(0) can be excluded as the mechanism for NO3- and NO2- reduction, reaction with Fe(II)-containing oxides coating the iron surface is the most likely reaction mechanism. This suggests that short-term batch tests requiring little turnover of reactive sites on the iron surface may overestimate long-term rates of NO3- removal because the effects of passivation are not apparent in batch tests conducted with high initial Fe(II) to NO3- ratios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-650
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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