This study highlights a pioneering approach in the development of an efficient, affordable, and economically feasible adsorbent specifically tailored for the removal of glyphosate (Gly) from contaminated water. To accomplish this objective, a low-cost and pure NaA Zeolite (NaAZ) was synthesized with 93% crystallinity from Austrian fly ash (AFA) as a precursor for the first-time. Taguchi design was employed to optimize critical parameters such as the SiO2/Al2O3 ratio, alkalinity concentration, time, and temperature. The cation exchange capacity (CEC) and external cation exchange capacity (ECEC) are determined as critical factors for the modification process. Subsequently, the pure NaAZ was modified with hexadecyl trimethyl ammonium chloride (HDTMAC), a cationic surfactant. The utilization of surfactant-modified zeolite (SMZ) for Gly removal demonstrates its innovative application in this field, highlighting its enhanced adsorption capacity and optimized surface properties. The AFA, NaAZ, and SMZ were characterized using analytical techniques including XRD, XRF, FTIR-ATR, SEM, TGA, BET, CHNSO analyzer and ICP-OES. The adsorbent exhibited effective Gly removal through its pH-dependent charge properties (pH 2–10), with an optimized pH 6 facilitating a significant electrostatic interaction between the adsorbent and Gly. SMZ demonstrated remarkable adsorption capacity and removal efficacy, surpassing most reported adsorbents with values of 769.23 mg/g and 98.92% respectively. Our study demonstrates the significant advantage of the SMZ, with a low leaching concentration of only 6 ppm after 60 days, ensuring environmental safety, long-term stability, and public health considerations. The kinetics of the adsorption process was well described by the pseudo-second order and the Freundlich isotherm. Pore diffusion and H-bonding were postulated to be involved in physisorption, whereas electrophilic interactions led to chemisorption type of adsorption. Consequently, SMZ provides a practical significance, broad applicability and promising solution for Gly removal, facilitating sustainable water treatment.

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