Environmental Comparison of Biochar and Activated Carbon for Tertiary Wastewater Treatment

Kyle A. Thompson, Kyle K. Shimabuku, Joshua P. Kearns, Detlef R. U. Knappe, R. Scott Summers, and Sherri M. Cook. “Environmental Comparison of Biochar and Activated Carbon for Tertiary Wastewater Treatment.” Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (20), 11253-11262. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03239

Abstract: Micropollutants in wastewater present environmental and human health challenges. Powdered activated carbon (PAC) can effectively remove organic micropollutants, but PAC production is energy intensive and expensive. Biochar adsorbents can cost less and sequester carbon; however, net benefits depend on biochar production conditions and treatment capabilities. Here, life cycle assessment was used to compare 10 environmental impacts from the production and use of wood biochar, biosolids biochar, and coal-derived PAC to remove sulfamethoxazole from wastewater. Moderate capacity wood biochar had environmental benefits in four categories (smog, global warming, respiratory effects, noncarcinogenics) linked to energy recovery and carbon sequestration, and environmental impacts worse than PAC in two categories (eutrophication, carcinogenics). Low capacity wood biochar had even larger benefits for global warming, respiratory effects, and noncarcinogenics, but exhibited worse impacts than PAC in five categories due to larger biochar dose requirements to reach the treatment objective. Biosolids biochar had the worst relative environmental performance due to energy use for biosolids drying and the need for supplemental adsorbent. Overall, moderate capacity wood biochar is an environmentally superior alternative to coal-based PAC for micropollutant removal from wastewater, and its use can offset a wastewater facility’s carbon footprint.

Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

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