Aqueous electrolyte solution modelling: some limitations of the Pitzer equations

Darren Rowland, E. Königsberger, G. Hefter, P.M. May

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55 Citations (Scopus)


© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Despite intense efforts, general thermodynamic modelling of aqueous electrolyte solutions still presents a difficult challenge, with no obvious method of choice. Even though the Pitzer equations seemingly provide a well-established theoretical framework applicable to many chemical systems over a wide range of temperatures and pressures, they are not as widely adopted as their early promise might have suggested. This is strikingly illustrated by the simultaneous appearance in the literature of numerous, different (and potentially incompatible) Pitzer models alongside a proliferation of alternative theoretical approaches with inferior capabilities. To better understand this problem, the ability of the Pitzer equations to represent the physicochemical properties of aqueous solutions has been systematically investigated for exemplar electrolyte systems. Pitzer ion-interaction parameters have been calculated for selected systems by least-squares regression analysis of published solution data for activity coefficients, osmotic coefficients, relative enthalpies, heat capacities, volumes and densities to high temperatures and pressures. Although satisfactory fits can be achieved when the ranges of conditions are carefully chosen and when sufficient data are available to constrain the regression, the fits obtained tend otherwise to be unsatisfactory. The Pitzer equations do not cope well with gaps and other deficiencies in the regressed data. Profound difficulties, poorly recognized hitherto, can also arise because of variation in the sensitivity of the Pitzer functions to values for different physicochemical properties when these are combined. Given the dimensionality of numerous related thermodynamic properties, all changing as functions of composition, temperature and pressure, these problems are difficult to detect, let alone address, especially in multicomponent systems. The growing practice of improving fits simply by adding basis functions (thereby increasing the number of adjustable parameters) should be deprecated because it increases the likelihood of error propagation, introduces subjectivity, makes independent verification difficult and has deleterious implications for both automated data processing and for consistency between thermodynamic models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-183
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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