Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 8, pp 7823–7833 | Cite as

Determination of point of zero charge of natural organic materials

  • Elisee Nsimba Bakatula
  • Dominique Richard
  • Carmen Mihaela Neculita
  • Gerald J. Zagury
Research Article


This study evaluates different methods to determine points of zero charge (PZCs) on five organic materials, namely maple sawdust, wood ash, peat moss, compost, and brown algae, used for the passive treatment of contaminated neutral drainage effluents. The PZC provides important information about metal sorption mechanisms. Three methods were used: (1) the salt addition method, measuring the PZC; (2) the zeta potential method, measuring the isoelectric point (IEP); (3) the ion adsorption method, measuring the point of zero net charge (PZNC). Natural kaolinite and synthetic goethite were also tested with both the salt addition and the ion adsorption methods in order to validate experimental protocols. Results obtained from the salt addition method in 0.05 M NaNO3 were the following: 4.72 ± 0.06 (maple sawdust), 9.50 ± 0.07 (wood ash), 3.42 ± 0.03 (peat moss), 7.68 ± 0.01 (green compost), and 6.06 ± 0.11 (brown algae). Both the ion adsorption and the zeta potential methods failed to give points of zero charge for these substrates. The PZC of kaolinite (3.01 ± 0.03) was similar to the PZNC (2.9–3.4) and fell within the range of values reported in the literature (2.7–4.1). As for the goethite, the PZC (10.9 ± 0.05) was slightly higher than the PZNC (9.0–9.4). The salt addition method has been found appropriate and convenient to determine the PZC of natural organic substrates.


Point of zero charge Point of zero net charge Isoelectric point Salt addition method Ion adsorption method Cation exchange capacity Zeta potential Organic materials 


Funding information

This study was funded by the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), grant no. 469489-14, and the industrial partners of the RIME UQAT-Polytechnique Montreal, including Agnico Eagle, Mine Canadian Malartic, Iamgold, Raglan Mine Glencore, and Rio Tinto.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisee Nsimba Bakatula
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dominique Richard
    • 1
    • 2
  • Carmen Mihaela Neculita
    • 3
  • Gerald J. Zagury
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.RIME-Research Institute on Mines and EnvironmentMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Department of Civil, Geological, and Mining Engineering-École Polytechnique de MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.RIME-Université du Québec en Abitibi-TémiscamingueRouyn-NorandaCanada

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