Mercury stable isotope fractionation during gaseous elemental mercury adsorption onto coal fly ash particles: Experimental and field observations

Biao Fu, Ruoyu Sun, Hong Yao, James C. Hower, Jingjing Yuan, Guangqian Luo, Hongyun Hu, Sarah M. Mardon, Quan Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Mercury (Hg) stable isotopes have a great potential to track coal combustion Hg emissions, but mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) during Hg adsorption onto fly ash particles could significantly alter isotope signatures of emitted Hg species. The detailed processes causing this MDF, however, are not well understood. Here, we simulated how isotopes fractionate during gaseous Hg0 adsorption onto fly ash at different times and temperatures. Kinetic MDF that preferably transfers light Hg isotopes to fly ash dominated Hg0 adsorption processes. The magnitude of MDF during Hg0 adsorption was invariable in the time-series experiment but increased significantly with increasing temperature in the temperature-series experiment. The external mass transfer and chemisorption are suggested to be the controlling processes for isotopic fractionation. Relative to diffusion-driven Hg0 adsorption, chemisorption is suggested to be a more important Hg0 adsorption step causing MDF, especially at high temperatures. The chemisorption involves Hg redox change from Hg0 to HgII and is likely enhanced with increasing temperature (50–180 °C). The proposed kinetic MDF model reveals that MDF in modern coal-fired power plants is likely driven by temperature-induced redox processes during Hg0 adsorption, and has great implications for developing MDF models in coal-fired boilers and tracing coal combustion Hg emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124280
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Mar 5 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China ( 41773104 , 51776084 ; U1612442 ), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation ( 2019M662586 ) and the China National Key Research and Development Plan Project ( 2017YFC0212700 ). J. C. Hower thanks the ongoing support by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for research at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research. We thank P. Li for assistance of MC-ICPMS operation and Hg isotope analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.


  • Adsorption
  • Coal-fired Power plants
  • Fly ash
  • Mass dependent fractionation
  • Mercury isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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