Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 2668–2674 | Cite as

Humic matter: basis for life—a plea for humics care

  • Fritz H. Frimmel
  • Gudrun Abbt-Braun
Humic Substances in the Environment



Humic matter (HM) is the leftover from life and at the same time the source for new life. The resulting complex system with many interactions has become a crucial part for the anthropocene and by this for the survival of mankind. Based on the results of the application of advanced analytical tools, the structures, reactions and interactions of HM are discussed.

Materials and methods

HM was investigated from different water samples (ground water, bog lake, waste water effluent). Fulvic acids (FA) and humic acids (HA) were isolated from a bog lake and from waste water effluent according to the XAD-method described by the International Humic Substances Society. Parameters like dissolved organic carbon (DOC), spectral absorption coefficient at λ = 254 nm (SAK), AOX (on activated carbon absorbable organically bound halogen) and THM (trihalomethanes) were determined according to ISO standard methods. For additional characterization, size exclusion chromatography coupled with online DOC detection and solid-state NMR were applied. The degradation of HM was studied by heterogeneous photocatalysis with titanium dioxide. Membrane separation, done as ultra- and nanofiltration, was used to characterize different size fractions of HM.

Results and discussion

The water solubility and hence the omnipresence of HM in aquatic systems opens the door for obtaining well-defined samples for experiments with meaningful results. Information on transport properties and reactivity, derived from the molecular size of HM, was obtained by using membrane filtration at different pore sizes. Photocatalytic degradation of HM was investigated by irradiation of suspensions with TiO2 as catalyst. Small organic acids (e.g. formic acid) were formed before total mineralisation occurred.


It can be concluded that the properties of HM are well derivable from their molecular data. The resulting character of HM with respect of the human environment seems to be obviously ambivalent and asks for a sound understanding and proper management to support life in a sustainable way.


Aquatic HM Humic matter (HM) Reactivity Refractoriness Structure 


Funding information

Financial support by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the State of Baden-Württemberg, and the German Association for Gas and Water (DVGW) is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Engler-Bunte-Institut, Water Chemistry and Water TechnologyKarlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)KarlsruheGermany

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