Extensive concerns have been focused on the emerging contaminants including nicotine in the aquatic system recently. Graphene oxide (GO) and modified graphene oxides (GO-COOH and defective GO-COOH) are used as effective adsorbents to remove nicotine from aqueous solution. The adsorption isotherms and kinetics of the adsorbents all fit well with Langmuir model and pseudo-second-order model, respectively. The thermodynamic studies show that the adsorption is an exothermic and spontaneous process. The influence of pH and ionic solution strength on the adsorbents is also investigated. The maximum adsorption capacity can be observed at pH value of ca. 8. The adsorption capacities of nicotine are decreased upon the increase of sodium ion concentration. Among all the adsorbents, the defective GO-COOH adsorbents possess the maximum adsorption capacity of nicotine of 196.5 mg g−1 obtained from Langmuir isotherm. In regeneration experiments, the defective GO-COOH adsorbents can maintain 95.1% of adsorption capacity after five times of cyclic adsorption-desorption processes. The adsorbents are identified by Fourier transform infrared, 13C solid-state magic-angle spinning nuclear magnetic resonance, X-ray photoelectron and Raman spectroscopies to determine the adsorption mechanisms and structure on the adsorbents. It can be deduced that the surpassing performance of defective GO-COOH may be ascribed to the unique adsorption mechanism of defects, the enhanced π–π interaction and cation-π bonding. The highly-efficient and stable features enable the defective GO-COOH a promising adsorbent to eliminate nicotine from water.
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