Iron is the fourth most common element by mass in the Earth's crust and forms compounds in several oxidation states. Iron (hydr)oxides, some of which form inherently and exclusively in the nanometre-size range, are ubiquitous in nature and readily synthesized. These facts add up to render many Fe (hydr)oxides suitable as catalysts, and it is hardly surprising that numerous studies on the applications of Fe (hydr)oxides in catalysis have been published. Moreover, the abundant availability of a natural Fe source from rocks and soils at minimal cost makes the potential use of these as heterogeneous catalyst attractive.
Besides those Fe (hydr)oxides that are inherently nanocrystalline (ferrihydrite, Fe5HO8.4H2O, and feroxyhyte, δ’-FeOOH), magnetite (Fe3O4) is often used as a catalyst because it has a permanent magnetization and contains Fe in both the divalent and trivalent states. Hematite, goethite and lepidocrocite have also been used as catalysts in their pure forms, doped with other cations, and as composites with carbon, alumina and zeolites among others.
In this review we report on the use of synthetic and natural Fe (hydr)oxides as catalysts in environmental remediation procedures using an advanced oxidation process, more specifically the Fenton-like system, which is highly efficient in generating reactive species such as hydroxyl radicals, even at room temperature and under atmospheric pressure. The catalytic efficiency of Fe (hydr)oxides is strongly affected by factors such as the Fe oxidation state, surface area, isomorphic substitution of Fe by other cations, pH and temperature.