Investigating the Heterogeneous Interaction of VOCs with Natural Atmospheric Particles: Adsorption of Limonene and Toluene on Saharan Mineral Dusts

The heterogeneous interaction of limonene and toluene with Saharan dusts was investigated under dark conditions, pressure of 1 atm, and temperature 293 K. The mineral dust samples were collected from six different regions along the Sahara desert, extending from Tunisia to the western Atlantic coastal areas of Morocco, and experiments were carried out with the smallest sieved fractions, that is, inferior to 100 μm. N2 sorption measurements, granulometric analysis, and X-ray fluorescence and diffraction (XRF and XRD) measurements were conducted to determine the physicochemical properties of the particles. The chemical characterization showed that dust originating from mideastern Sahara has a significantly higher SiO2 content (∼82%) than dust collected from the western coastal regions where the SiO2 relative abundance was ∼50%. A novel experimental setup combining diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transform spectroscopy (DRIFTS), selected-ion flow-tube mass spectrometry (SIFT–MS), and long path transmission Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) allowed us to follow both the adsorbed and gas phases. The kinetic adsorption/desorption measurements were performed using purified dry air as bath gas, exposing each dust surface to 10 ppm of the selective volatile organic compound (VOC). The adsorption of limonene was independent of the SiO2 content, given the experimental uncertainties, and the coverage measurements ranged between (10 and 18) × 1013 molecules cm–2. Experimental results suggest that other metal oxides that could possibly influence dust acidity may enhance the adsorption of limonene. On the contrary, in the case of toluene, the adsorption capacities of the Saharan samples increased with decreasing SiO2 content; however, the coverage measurements were significantly lower than those of limonene and ranged between (2 and 12) × 1013 molecules cm–2. Flushing the surface with purified dry air showed that VOC desorption is not a completely reversible process at room temperature. The reversibly adsorbed fraction and the rate coefficients of desorption, kdes, depended inversely on the SiO2 relative abundance for both VOCs.