This paper introduces an original, eco-friendly and scalable method to synthesize ferrihydrite nanoparticles in aqueous suspensions, which can also be used as a precursor to produce α-hematite nanoparticles. The method, never used before to synthesize iron oxides, is based on an ion exchange process allowing to operate in one-step, with reduced times, at room temperature and ambient pressure, and using cheap or renewable reagents. The influence of reagent concentrations and time of the process on the ferrihydrite features is considered. The transformation to hematite is then analyzed and discussed in relation to different procedures: (1) A natural aging in the water at room temperature; and (2) heat treatments at different temperatures and times. Structural and morphological features of the obtained nanoparticles are investigated by means of several techniques, such as X-ray diffraction, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy, thermal analysis, nitrogen adsorption and magnetic measurements. Ferrihydrite shows the typical spherical morphology and a very high specific surface area of 420 m2
/g. Rhombohedral or plate-like hexagonal hematite nanoparticles are obtained by the two procedures, characterized by dimensions of 50 nm and 30 nm, respectively, and a specific surface area up to 57 m2
/g, which is among the highest values reported in the literature for hematite NPs.
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