Environmental science & technology

Natural abiotic formation of oxalic acid in soils: results from aromatic model compounds and soil samples.

PMID 23311299


Oxalic acid is the smallest dicarboxylic acid and plays an important role in soil processes (e.g., mineral weathering and metal detoxification in plants). We have first proven its abiotic formation in soils and investigated natural abiotic degradation processes based on the oxidation of soil organic matter, enhanced by Fe(3+) and H(2)O(2) as hydroxyl radical suppliers. Experiments with the model compound catechol and further hydroxylated benzenes were performed to examine a common degradation pathway and to presume a general formation mechanism of oxalic acid. Two soil samples were tested for the release of oxalic acid and the potential effects of various soil parameters on oxalic acid formation. Additionally, the soil samples were treated with different soil sterilization methods to prove the oxalic acid formation under abiotic soil conditions. Different series of model experiments were conducted to determine a range of factors including Fe(3+), H(2)O(2), reaction time, pH, and chloride concentration on oxalic acid formation. Under certain conditions, catechol is degraded up to 65.6% to oxalic acid referring to carbon. In serial experiments with two soil samples, oxalic acid was produced, and the obtained results are suggestive of an abiotic degradation process. In conclusion, Fenton-like conditions with low Fe(3+) concentrations and an excess of H(2)O(2) as well as acidic conditions were required for an optimal oxalic acid formation. The presence of chloride reduced oxalic acid formation.