Humic acids (HAs) were extracted and characterized from three kinds of uranium-enriched lignites from Yunnan province, China. Batch experiments were used to study the adsorption and desorption behavior of uranium (VI) onto these HAs and a commercial HA. The results showed that the optimum pH level at which all the HAs adsorbed uranium(VI) ranged from 5 to 8. The high uranium content of the HAs was released into the solution at the pH values between 1 and 3; when the HA dosage was 2.5 g L−1, the maximum concentration of uranium was 44.14 μg L−1. This shows that HAs derived from uranium-enriched lignites may present a potential environmental risk when used in acidic conditions. The experimental data were found to comply with the pseudo-second-order kinetic model, and the adsorption isotherms fit the Langmuir and Freundlich models well. The desorption experiments revealed that the sorption mechanism was controlled by the complex interactions between the organic ligands of the HAs and uranium(VI). The uranium present in the HAs may not affect the adsorption capacity of the uranium(VI), but the carboxylic and phenolic hydroxyl groups in the HAs play a significant role in controlling the adsorption capacity.

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