Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, Vol.584, 592-601, 2021
Well-defined poly(ethylene glycol) polymers as non-conventional reactive tracers of colloidal transport in porous media
Hypothesis: A prominent fraction of mobile organic matter in natural aqueous soil solutions is formed by molecules in sizes that seamlessly exceed the lower end of what is defined as a colloid. The hydrodynamics and the functional diversity of these molecules result in a transport behavior that is fundamentally different from smaller compounds. However, there is a lack of "reactive tracers" that allow for the study of colloidal transport phenomena appropriately. We hypothesize that tailor-made and well-defined synthetic polymers can overcome this limitation. Experiments: We prepared and characterized the hydrodynamic properties of water-soluble poly(ethylene glycol)s (PEG) and studied their adsorption to mixtures of quartz, illite, and goethite in batch and column experiments. Findings: We used this information to independently predict the transport of PEG with striking agreement to the observed mean breakthrough times in all porous media. As PEG transport can be comprehensively and quantitatively reconstructed, we conclude that functionalized PEGs are promising candidates to be used as tailorable and non-toxic tracers available in the size range of natural organic (macro-) molecules. (C) 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license.