Influence of soluble oligomeric aluminum on precipitation in the Al-KOH-H2O system

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The role of oligomeric aluminate species in the precipitation of aluminum (Al) phases such as gibbsite (α-Al(OH)3) from aqueous hydroxide solutions remains unclear and difficult to probe directly, despite its importance for developing accurate predictions of Al solubility in highly alkaline systems. Precipitation in this system entails a transition from predominantly tetrahedrally coordinated aluminate (Al(OH)4−) species in solution to octahedrally coordinated Al in gibbsite. Here we report a quantitative study of dissolved Al in the Al–KOH–H2O system using a combination of molecular spectroscopies. We establish a relationship between changes in 27Al NMR chemical shifts and the relative intensity of Raman vibrational bands, indicative of variations in the ensemble speciation of Al in solution, and the formation of unique contact ion pair interactions with the aluminate dimer, Al2O(OH)62−. A strong correlation between the extent of Al oligomerization and the amount of solvated Al was demonstrated by systematically varying the KOH[thin space (1/6-em)]:[thin space (1/6-em)]Al molar ratio. The concentration of dissolved oligomeric Al in solution also directly impacted the particle size and morphology of the precipitated gibbsite. High concentrations of dimeric Al2O(OH)62− yielded smaller and more numerous anhedral to subhedral gibbsite particles, while low concentrations yielded fewer and larger euhedral gibbsite platelets. The collective observations suggest a key role for the Al2O(OH)62− dimer in promoting gibbsite precipitation from solution, with the potassium ion-paired dimer catalyzing a more rapid transformation of Al from tetrahedral coordination in solution to octahedral coordination in gibbsite.