Heavy versus Light Lanthanide Selectivity for Graphene Oxide Films is Concentration Dependent

30 June 2023, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Rare earths are important materials in various technologies such as catalysis and optoelectronics. Graphene oxide (GO) is a promising material for separation applications, including the isolation of lanthanides from complex mixtures. Previous works using fatty acid monolayers have demonstrated preferential heavy versus light lanthanide adsorption, which has been attributed to differences in lanthanide ion size. In this work, we used interfacial X-ray fluorescence measurements to reveal that GO thin films at the air/water interface have no lanthanide selectivity for dilute subphases. However, at high subphase concentrations ~8x more Lu adsorb than La. By comparing GO results with an ideal monolayer with a carboxylic acid headgroup, arachidic acid (AA), we demonstrate that the number of Lu ions adsorbed to GO is significantly higher than the number expected to compensate the surface charge. Vibrational sum frequency generation (SFG) spectroscopy results on both GO thin films and AA monolayers reveal a red-shifted SFG signal in the OH region, which we attribute to partial dehydration of the adsorbed ions and carboxylic acid headgroups. Liquid surface X-ray reflectivity data show that the GO thin film structure does not significantly change between the very dilute and concentrated subphases. We speculate that the functional groups of both GO and AA facilitate cation dehydration, which is essential for ion adsorption. Heavy lanthanide Lu has stronger ion-ion correlations that can overcome electrostatic repulsion between cations at higher concentrations compared to light lanthanide La, meaning GO and AA can exhibit apparent overcharge with Lu. Lastly, the layered structure of the GO films and reactive chemical nature of GO itself can accommodate ion adsorption.


Graphene Oxide
X-ray Scattering
Sum Frequency Generation Spectroscopy
Lanthanide Separations

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
Pressure-area isotherms for arachidic acid monolayers, parameters for fitted X-ray reflectivity data, X-ray fluorescence near total reflection data for graphene oxide and arachidic acid.


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