The low-cost natural zeolite clinoptilolite was successfully applied for the competitive removal of Pb, Cd, and Zn from binary (Pb + Zn) and (Cd + Zn) aqueous solutions at different Pb/Zn and Cd/Zn concentration ratios. The obtained efficiency was in the range of 79.0⁻85.0%, and was similar for both systems, indicating that no loss in capacity was observed for six successive sorption-desorption cycles. In both systems, after the breakthrough, competition between the ions occurs, leading to overshooting in the Zn's initial concentration, indicating displacement of already-bound Zn with Pb and Cd from the feeding solutions. The Zn exceeded its initial concentration up to 2.3 times in the presence of Pb, and up to 1.2 times in the presence of Cd. The film diffusion was pronounced as the slowest step responsible for the overall process rate. The overall mass transfer coefficient (Ka) shows higher values for the (Cd + Zn) system compared to the (Pb + Zn) one due to reduced competition and ions migration. An SEM-EDS analysis confirmed a higher amount of bound Pb and Cd compared to Zn, and a mapping analysis revealed the equal distribution of all ions onto the zeolite surface.
Keywords: binary systems; cadmium; competition; lead; overall mass transfer coefficient; overshooting; zinc.