Electrochemical removal of amphoteric ions

Amit N. Shocron, Eric N. Guyes, Huub H.M. Rijnaarts, P.M. Biesheuvel, Matthew E. Suss*, Jouke E. Dykstra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Several harmful or valuable ionic species present in seawater, brackish water, and wastewater are amphoteric, weak acids or weak bases, and, thus, their properties depend on local water pH. Effective removal of these species can be challenging for conventional membrane technologies, necessitating chemical dosing of the feedwater to adjust pH. A prominent example is boron, which is considered toxic in high concentrations and often requires additional membrane passes to remove during seawater desalination. Capacitive deionization (CDI) is an emerging membraneless technique for water treatment and desalination, based on electrosorption of salt ions into charging microporous electrodes. CDI cells show strong internally generated pH variations during operation, and, thus, CDI can potentially remove pH-dependent species without chemical dosing. However, development of this technique is inhibited by the complexities inherent to the coupling of pH dynamics and ion properties in a charging CDI cell. Here, we present a theoretical framework predicting the electrosorption of pH-dependent species in flow-through electrode CDI cells. We demonstrate that such a model enables insight into factors affecting species electrosorption and conclude that important design rules for such systems are highly counterintuitive. For example, we show both theoretically and experimentally that for boron removal, the anode should be placed upstream and the cathode downstream, an electrode order that runs counter to the accepted wisdom in the CDI field. Overall, we show that to achieve target separations relying on coupled, complex phenomena, such as in the removal of amphoteric species, a theoretical CDI model is essential.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2108240118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021


  • Amphoteric ions
  • Boron removal
  • Capacitive deionization
  • Electrochemical water treatment
  • PH modeling


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