The 3-D matrix scale ion-exchange mechanism was explored for high-capacity cadmium (Cd) removal using bone chars (BC) chunks (1–2 mm) made at 500 °C (500BC) and 700 °C (700BC) in aqueous solutions. The Cd incorporation into the carbonated hydroxyapatite (CHAp) mineral of BC was examined using a set of synchrotron-based techniques. The Cd removal from solution and incorporation into mineral lattice were higher in 500BC than 700BC, and the diffusion depth was modulated by the initial Cd concentration and charring temperature. A higher carbonate level of BC, more pre-leached Ca sites, and external phosphorus input enhanced Cd removal. The 500BC showed a higher CO32-/PO43- ratio and specific surface area (SSA) than the 700BC, providing more vacant sites by dissolution of Ca2+. In situ observations revealed the refilling of sub-micron pore space in the mineral matrix because of Cd incorporation.The X-ray nanodiffraction (XND) analyses revealed that Cd was mainly removed from water by incorporation into the mineral lattice of 500BC via ion exchange, rather than surface sorption and precipitation, and the mineral phase was transformed from hydroxyapatite (HAp) to cadmium hydroxyapatite (Cd-HAp). The Rietveld's refinement of X-ray diffraction (XRD) data resolved up to 91% of the crystal displacement of Ca2+ by Cd2+. The specific phase and stoichiometry of the new Cd-HAp mineral was dependent on the level of ion exchange. This mechanistic study confirmed that 3-D ion exchange was the most important path for heavy metal removal from aqueous solution and immobilization in BC mineral matrix, and put forward a novel and sustainable remediation strategy for Cd removal in wastewater and soil clean-up.
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