Environmental science and pollution research international

Aqueous aggregation and stability of graphene nanoplatelets, graphene oxide, and reduced graphene oxide in simulated natural environmental conditions: complex roles of surface and solution chemistry.

PMID 29399742


Graphene-family nanomaterials (GFNs) exhibit universal applications and consequently will inevitably enter aquatic systems. However, both the fate and behavior of GFNs in aquatic environments have not been completely explored at field relevant conditions. Herein, we have systematically investigated the aqueous aggregation and stability of graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs), graphene oxide (GO), and reduced graphene oxide (RGO) under varied solution chemistry parameters (pH, divalent cations, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC)) during 21 days of incubation in simulated natural environmental conditions. Results indicate that pH values from 6 to 9 had a notable impact on the aqueous behaviors of the three GFNs. Divalent cations (Ca2+ and Mg2+) at the concentrations of 2.5 and 10 mM remarkably increased the extent of aggregation of the three GFNs and resulted in severe sedimentation, independently of surface chemical functionalization. The presence of only DOC ranging from 0.5 to 2 mg C/L significantly elevated the dispersion stability of GNPs and RGO in a dose-dependent manner, whereas no effects were observed on GO. Furthermore, DOC at the studied concentrations and surface functionality were insufficient to counterbalance the impact of the divalent cations. Direct visual and in situ observations further supported the conclusions on the effects of divalent cations or/and DOC. These findings further underline that the environmental behaviors of GFNs are controlled by the complex interplay between water chemistry parameters and GFN surface properties.