Commercial pulverous activated carbon (AC-0) was modified through two steps: oxidize AC-0 acid firstly, impregnate it with iron using ferric chloride secondly. Orthogonal experiment was conducted then to prepare modified activated carbon with high Cd(II) adsorption capacity (ACNF). Batch adsorption experiments were undertaken to determine the adsorption characteristics of Cd(II) from aqueous solution onto AC-0 and ACNF and the effect of pH, contact time and initial Cd(II) concentration. The results indicate that: the adsorption behavior of Cd(II) on ACNF can be well fitted with Langmuir model, and the maximum adsorption capacity of ACNF was 2.3 times higher than that of AC-0, supporting a monolayer coverage of Cd(II) on the surface. The kinetics of the adsorption process can be described by pseudo-second-order rate equation very well, and the adsorption capacity increased from 0.810 mg/g to 0.960 mg/g after modification. Compared with AC-0, the kinetic parameters of ACNF showed a higher adsorption rate through the aqueous solution to the solid surface and a lower intraparticle diffusion rate. Surface modification resulted in a lower Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) surface area and pore size because of the collapse and blockage of pores, according to the X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis, while the total number of surface oxygen acid groups increased, and this was supposed to contribute to the enhanced adsorption capacity of modified activated carbon.

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