Adsorption of mercury (Hg) on lignin was studied at a range of pH values using a combination of batch adsorption experiments, a surface complexation model (SCM) and synchrotron X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). Surface complexation modeling indicates that three types of acid sites on lignin surfaces, namely aliphatic carboxylic-, aromatic carboxylic- and phenolic-type surface groups, contributed to Hg(II) adsorption. The bond distance and coordination number of Hg(II) adsorption samples at pH 3.0, 4.0 and 5.5 were obtained from extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) spectroscopy analysis. The results of SCM and XAS combined reveal that the predominant adsorption species of Hg(II) on lignin changes from HgCl20 to monodentate complex C-O HgCl and then bidentate complex -C-O-Hg-O-C- with increasing pH value from 2.0 to 6.0. The good agreement between SCM and XAS results provides new insight into understanding the mechanisms of Hg(II) adsorption on lignin. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.