The present study investigated the preparation of nitric acid modified powder activated carbon (MPAC) and its adsorption of trace amounts of Ni(II) from aqueous solution. Results showed that raw powder activated carbon modified with 15% nitric acid (MPAC-15%) had the most developed pore structure and the highest adsorption efficiency for Ni(II) in aqueous solution. For MPAC-15%, the pore width was dominated by micropores with pore width about 1 nm and the total amount of chemical functional groups of MPAC-15% was 0.6630 mmol/g. Ni(II) adsorption tests indicated that the highest adsorption efficiency of MPAC-15% was 98%. The adsorption saturation time of MPAC-15% was about 120 min and the pH-dependent adsorption test showed that neutral conditions (6.5 < pH < 7.5) were suitable for Ni(II) adsorption. The adsorption kinetic analysis revealed that the pseudo-second order adsorption model fitted the adsorption process significantly. Thus, Ni(II) adsorption by MPAC-15% was dominated not only by physical adsorption via highly developed micropores but also by chemical adsorption between Ni(II) and surface functional groups. Adsorption isotherm analysis illustrated the Langmuir model was favorable for the adsorption of Ni(II), with R2 = 0.9874.

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