Equilibrium and kinetic adsorption of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) onto three coal-based activated carbons, one coconut-based activated carbon, and two zeolites are elucidated in this study. Natural organic matter (NOM) and MTBE competed for the adsorption of activated carbons to different extents. The ideal adsorbed solution theory (IAST) combined with the equivalent background compound (EBC) model can adequately describe the NOM competition and predict the isotherms of MTBE onto the activated carbons. No competitive adsorption was observed for one of the zeolites, mordenite, due to the molecular effect. Besides, the aperture size, and the SiO2/Al2O3 ratio of the zeolite may also play an important role in the adsorption of MTBE from the aqueous phase. The surface diffusion model accurately simulated the transport of MTBE within the adsorbents employed in different water matrices. For all the activated carbons tested, the surface diffusivity of MTBE in natural water was nearly equal to that in deionized water, indicating that no apparently hindering effect occurs. A much slower adsorption kinetic of mordenite in natural water was observed since the opening apertures on mordenite may be appreciably hindered and blocked by NOM.
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