Heavy metal removal from aqueous solution by advanced carbon nanotubes: Critical review of adsorption applications

Ihsanullah, Aamir Abbas, Adnan M. Al-Amer, Tahar Laoui, Jaber Al Marri, Mustafa S. Nasser, Majeda Khraisheh, Muataz Atieh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

404 Citations (Scopus)


The scarcity of water, especially in arid and semi-arid regions of the world is exerting great pressure on resources and establishing more need to provide good quality water for human and other consumptions. Water recovery/recycle/reuse has proven to be effective and successful in creating a new and reliable water supply. Accordingly, attention is being paid to the effective treatment of alternative sources of water (apart from fresh water) such as seawater, storm water, wastewater (e.g. treated sewage water), and industrial wastewater. In this review, the use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), member of the fullerene structural family, is considered with special focus on the removal of heavy metals from water (lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, copper, zinc and nickel). A critical review into the adsorption behavior and use of the CNTs is given with attention being paid to the effects of surface modifications on the adsorption behavior and subsequent heavy metal removal. A review of the effect of a number of key variables including pH, CNTs dosage, time, ionic strength, temperature and surface charge are given. It will be demonstrated that, surface modification enhances positively the adsorption capacity of CNTs towards cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, copper, zinc, cobalt and nickel as did the solution pH. CNTs have been proven to an excellent adsorbent for the removal of different heavy metals from water. However, most of the applications of CNTs are on lab scale in batch experiments. In spite of high costs, CNTs are expected to be a promising adsorbent in the future due to its high adsorption capacity compared to many traditional adsorbents. Researchers are also in quest of novel environment friendly techniques for the surface modification of CNTs to further improve their properties. Still, the feasibility of CNTs application in large scale treatment needs to be further studied. Effective techniques for regeneration/reuse of CNTs also need to be explored yet. One of the main hurdles that limit the applications of CNTs in large scale operation is the cost of CNTs. Future research works on developing a cost-effective way of CNT production and testing the toxicity of CNTs and CNT-related materials are recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-161
Number of pages21
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2016



  • Adsorption
  • Carbon nanotubes
  • Heavy metals
  • Water treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation

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