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International Journal of Photoenergy
Volume 5, Issue 2, Pages 51-58

Fate of nitrogen atoms in the photocatalytic degradation of industrial (congo red) and alimentary (amaranth) azo dyes. Evidence for mineralization into gaseous dinitrogen

1Laboratoire de Photocatalyse Catalyse et Environnement, (LPCE), UMR CNRS IFOS no. 5621 Ecole Centrale Lyon, Ecully Cedex, 69134, France
2Laboratoire de Catalyse et Environnement, ENIG, Gabès, Tunisia

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The photocatalytic degradation of two azo-dyes–an industrial one (Congo Red (CR)), and an alimentary one (Amaranth (AM))–has been investigated in TiO2/UV aqueous suspensions. In addition to a prompt removal of the colors, TiO2/UV-based photocatalysis was simultaneously able to fully oxidize the dyes, with a complete mineralization of organic carbon into CO2. In particular, the aromatic rings were submitted to successive attacks by photogenerated OH radicals leading to hydroxylated metabolites before the ring opening and the final evolution of CO2 induced by repeated subsequent “photo-Kolbe” reactions with carboxylic intermediates. Simultaneously, sulfur heteroatoms were converted into innocuous SO42 ions. The mineralization of nitrogen was more complex to analyze. Nitrogen atoms in the -3 oxidation state, such as in the amino-groups of CR, initially remained at this reduction degree and produced NH4+ cations, subsequently and very slowly converted into NO3 anions. For both azo-dyes (CR and AM) degradation, the overall mass balance in nitrogen was always found incomplete. Various experiments performed in pure oxygen in a vacuum-tight cell and then in an air-free photoreactor (but filled with pure oxygen) enabled us to put in evidence the formation of N2. Quantitative measurements clearly indicated that gaseous dinitrogen evolved stoichiometrically corresponded to the mineralization of the central –N=N– azo-group. This constitutes the ideal issue for the elimination of nitrogen-containing pollutants, not only for environmental photocatalysis but also for any other physicochemical method. These results suggest that TiO2/UV photocatalysis may be envisaged as a method for treatment of diluted colored waste waters not only for decolorization but also for total detoxification, in particular in textile industries in semi-arid countries.