Adsorption—from theory to practice

A Dabrowski
Advances in Colloid and Interface Science 2001 October 8, 93 (1): 135-224
Adsorption at various interfaces has concerned scientists since the beginning of this century. This phenomenon underlies a number of extremely important processes of utilitarian significance. The technological, environmental and biological importance of adsorption can never be in doubt. Its practical applications in industry and environmental protection are of paramount importance. The adsorption of substrates is the first stage in many catalytic processes. The methods for separation of mixtures on a laboratory and on an industrial scale are increasingly based on utilising the change in concentration of components at the interface. Moreover, such vital problems as purification of water, sewages, air and soil are involved here too. On the other hand, many areas in which technological innovation has covered adsorption phenomena have been expanded more through art and craft than through science. A basic understanding of the scientific principles is far behind; in part because the study of interfaces requires extremely careful experimentation if meaningful and reproducible results are to be obtained. In recent years, however, considerable effort has been increasingly directed toward closing the gap between theory and practice. Crucial progress in theoretical description of the adsorption has been achieved, mainly through the development of new theoretical approaches formulated on a molecular level, by means of computer simulation methods and owing to new techniques which examine surface layers or interfacial regions. Moreover, during the last 15 years new classes of solid adsorbents have been developed, such as activated carbon fibres and carbon molecular sieves, fullerenes and heterofullerenes, microporous glasses and nanoporous--both carbonaceous and inorganic--materials. Nanostructured solids are very popular in science and technology and have gained extreme interest due to their sorption, catalytic, magnetic, optical and thermal properties. Although the development of adsorption up to the 1918s has been following rather a zig-zag path, this arm of surface science is now generally considered to have become a well-defined branch of physical science representing an intrinsically interdisciplinary area between chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. This review presents in brief the history of adsorption and highlights the progress in theoretical description of the phenomenon under consideration. The paper deals with the above problems critically, showing the development of adsorption, presenting some of the latest important results and giving a source of up-to-date literature on it. Moreover, in this paper the most important aspects are overviewed referring to today's trends and visions in application of adsorption science in industry, environmental protection and in environmental analysis. The relationship between development of adsorption theory and adsorption practice is pointed out. Current understanding and perspectives pertaining to applications of adsorption phenomena on laboratory and on industrial scale as well as environmental protection are discussed and illustrated by means of a few spectacular examples.

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