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Nitrogen-Rich Organic Matter Formation and Stabilization in Iron Ore Tailings: A Submicrometer Investigation

  • Songlin Wu
    Songlin Wu
    Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
    State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China
    More by Songlin Wu
  • Jeremy Bougoure
    Jeremy Bougoure
    Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley 6009, Australia
  • Jian Wang
    Jian Wang
    Canadian Light Source Inc., University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 2V3, Canada
    More by Jian Wang
  • Lars Thomsen
    Lars Thomsen
    Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO, 800 Blackburn Road, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia
    More by Lars Thomsen
  • Ting-Shan Chan
    Ting-Shan Chan
    National Synchrotron Radiation Research Centre, Hsinchu Science Park, Hsinchu 30092, Taiwan
  • Qing Yi
    Qing Yi
    Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
    More by Qing Yi
  • Zhen Li
    Zhen Li
    Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
    More by Zhen Li
  • Gordon Southam
    Gordon Southam
    School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
  • , and 
  • Longbin Huang*
    Longbin Huang
    Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
    *Email: [email protected]. Phone: +61 7 3346 3130. Fax: +61 7 3346 4056.
Cite this: Environ. Sci. Technol. 2023, 57, 33, 12325–12338
Publication Date (Web):August 13, 2023
https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.3c03011
Copyright © 2023 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract

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    Organic matter (OM) formation and stabilization are critical processes in the eco-engineered pedogenesis of Fe ore tailings, but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. The present 12 month microcosm study has adopted nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) and synchrotron-based scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) techniques to investigate OM formation, molecular signature, and stabilization in tailings at micro- and nanometer scales. In this system, microbial processing of exogenous isotopically labeled OM demonstrated that 13C labeled glucose and 13C/15N labeled plant biomass were decomposed, regenerated, and associated with Fe-rich minerals in a heterogeneous pattern in tailings. Particularly, when tailings were amended with plant biomass, the 15N-rich microbially derived OM was generated and bound to minerals to form an internal organo-mineral association, facilitating further OM stabilization. The organo-mineral associations were primarily underpinned by interactions of carboxyl, amide, aromatic, and/or aliphatic groups with weathered mineral products derived from biotite-like minerals in fresh tailings (i.e., with Fe2+ and Fe3+) or with Fe3+ oxyhydroxides in aged tailings. The study revealed microbial OM generation and subsequent organo-mineral association in Fe ore tailings at the submicrometer scale during early stages of eco-engineered pedogenesis, providing a basis for the development of microbial based technologies toward tailings’ ecological rehabilitation.

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    The Supporting Information is available free of charge at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.3c03011.

    • Additional details of methods and additional results, including methods for microbial activities, labile OM extraction, density fractionation, C 1s NEXAFS, ATR-FTIR spectroscopy, Fe K edge XAFS, NanoSIMS, BSE-SEM-EDS, and STXM-NEXAFS analyses, as well as results of STXM-NEXAFS, XRD, ATR-FTIR spectroscopy, microbial respiration rates, TOC: TN ratio, C1 s NEXAFS spectral fitting, Fe K edge XAFS, Fe L edge, Al K edge, and Si K edge NEXAFS spectra, BSE-SEM-EDS, and NanoSIMS (PDF)

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