A ‘Third Way’ to Fight Climate Change

Read the full opinion piece in the New York Times.

Two options for dealing with climate change — reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a global agreement, and geoengineering proposals such as injecting sulfur into the stratosphere — tend to dominate current thinking. But there is a “third way” that is almost entirely neglected in political negotiations and public debate. It involves capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it or using it to create things we need. Because of the scale of the climate problem, I believe that in coming decades third-way technologies will become a major focus of activity.

Three recent biochar research articles

“Biochar Supported Nanoscale Iron Particles for the Efficient Removal of Methyl Orange Dye in Aqueous Solutions.” PLOS One, July 23, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132067.

Abstract: The presence of organic contaminants in industrial effluents is an environmental concern of increasing global importance. One innovative technology for treating contaminated industrial effluents is nanoscale zero-valent iron supported on biochar (nZVI/BC). Based on Transmission Electron Microscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, and Brunauer-Emmett-Teller characterizations, the nZVI was well dispersed on the biochar and aggregation was dramatically reduced. Methyl orange (MO) served as the representative organic contaminant for verifying the effectiveness of the composite. Using decolorization efficiency as an indicator of treatment effectiveness, increasing doses of nZVI/BC yielded progressively better results with 98.51% of MO decolorized by 0.6 g/L of composite at an nZVI/BC mass ratio of 1:5. The superior decolorization efficiency of the nZVI/BC was attributed to the increase in the dispersion and reactivity of nZVI while biochar increasing the contact area with contaminant and the adsorption of composites. Additionally, the buffering function of acid-washed biochar could be in favor of maintaining the reactivity of nZVI. Furthermore, the aging nZVI/BC for 30 day was able to maintain the removal efficiency indicating that the oxidation of nZVI may be delayed in the presence of biochar. Therefore, the composite of nZVI/BC could represent an effective functional material for treating wastewater containing organic dyes in the future.

“Sorption of arsenate onto magnetic iron-manganese (Fe-Mn) biochar composites.” RSC Advances Accepted 28 Jul 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/C5RA12137J.

Abstract: Bimetal adsorbents attract much attention because of their good sorption ability to arsenate (As(V)). In this work, biochar-supported bimetal adsorbents were prepared through either direct pyrolysis of Fe and Mn ions treated pinewood biomass (FMM) or co-precipitation of Fe and Mn ions onto pinewood biochar (FMB). The two Fe-Mn biochar composites were characterized using X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and energy-dispersive X-ray (EDS) analyses. Characterization results suggest that maghemite (γ-Fe2O3) and manganosite (MnO) are dominant metal crystals in FMM, while manganese ferrite (MnFe2O4) is the dominant bimetal crystal in FMB. Batch sorption experiments showed that maximal As(V) sorption of FMB and FMM were 3.44 and 0.50 g kg-1 respectively, which were higher than that of the unmodified biochar. As(V) sorption by FMM and FMB decreased with increasing solution pH (between 3-9). Results of this work suggest that co-precipitation is more effective in preparing magnetic Fe-Mn biochar composites for As(V) removal.

“The effect of paper sludge and biochar addition on brown peat and coir based growing media properties.” Scientia Horticulturae 193, 225–230. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2015.07.032.

Abstract: Peatlands are crucial sinks for carbon in the terrestrial ecosystem, but they are jeopardized by their use as fuel or as growing media. Much research has been performed aiming to find high quality and low cost substrates from different organic wastes, such as coir, compost, sewage or paper sludges, and thus decrease peat consumption. The main objective of this work is to study the effect on peat and coir-based growing media of deinking sludge (R) and biochar obtained by pyrolysis of deinking sludge at 300 °C (B300). For this reason, mixtures of peat or coir with deinking sludge and corresponding biochar were prepared mixing them at 50/50 v/v ratios. The results showed that it is possible to improve the chemical and hydrophysical properties of peat and coir with addition of biochar and deinking sludge. Indeed, biochar increased air space, water holding capacity and total porosity of peat-based growing media whereas for coir, the best hydrophysical properties were obtained after deinking sludge addition. Finally, the use of biochar plus peat as growing media can increase lettuce yield by more than 100% with respect to peat growing media, which can be related with the improvement of hydrophysical growing media properties. This yield increment along with the reduction of the over-exploitation of peat can justify the use of biochar as growing media in spite of the cost associated to the pyrolysis process.

Tuning Biochar Properties via Partial Gasification: Facilitating Inorganic Nutrients Recycling and Altering Organic Matter Leaching

Sui Boon Liaw and Hongwei Wu (2015). “Tuning Biochar Properties via Partial Gasification: Facilitating Inorganic Nutrients Recycling and Altering Organic Matter Leaching.” Energy & Fuels Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.5b01020.

Abstract: This study reports a systematic study on the potential of employing partial gasification at low conversions for tuning biochar for better properties and facilitating the recycling of inorganic nutrient species. The raw biochars were prepared from mallee wood and leaf at fast pyrolysis at 500 C (a temperature pertinent to bio-oil production) and subsequent tuning via partial steam gasification at 725°C and low conversions (5 and 10 % on a carbon basis). The favourable structure tuning is achieved at the expense of 8–23% carbon which would otherwise be available for sequestration during biochar application in soil. The development of pore structure and transformation of the chemical forms of inorganic nutrient species as results of partial gasification increase the leachability of the inorganic nutrient species in biochars via both water and Mehlich I solution. In addition, <1.5% of the organic matter in raw and tuned biochar are water soluble. The leaching of water-soluble organic matter from the tuned biochars after re-pyrolyssi and partial gasification (but absence in the same biochars after re-pyrolysis) suggests that partial gasification increases the accessibility of organic matter trapped in closed or blocked pores formed during pyrolysis. While some aromatic compounds can be leached from the raw biochar via solvent, no aromatic compounds are detected in the leachates from the tuned biochars. The tuning of biochar via partial gasification also improves the leaching kinetics of the inherent inorganic nutrient species. The overall recyclability of the inorganic nutrient species in the raw and tuned biochar shows that tuning biochar via partial gasification can be an effective strategy for facilitating the recycling of the inherent nutrient species in biochar.

New ISTC report: Antioxidants from Wood-derived Pyrolyzates (Bio-oils)

Download the document.

Phenolic compounds with antioxidant activity toward soybean-derived fatty acid methyl esters (SME, used as a model for biodiesel) were obtained by pyrolysis from wood (birch hardwood), corn stover, and lignin. The lignins were either commercially available (Indulin AT kraft lignin from softwood) or isolated from whole plant material by acid-dioxane extraction. Phenols were isolated from the crude liquid pyrolyzate by extraction with alkali. Antioxidant activities were determined by ferric isothiocyanate spectrometry, Rancimat induction period determination, and pressurized differential scanning calorimetry. Preliminary evidence with hydrocarbon diesel-SME mixtures indicated that the mixtures differed from SME alone in their response to antioxidants. The total phenolic extracts from birch wood pyrolysis and kraft lignin were active antioxidants in all three analyses, comparable in effectiveness to the synthetic antioxidant BHT. However, many simple lignin-related phenolic monomers were found to have little or no activity when tested with SME. Chromatographic separation and analysis of the extracts indicated that the bulk of the activity was associated with a more complex fraction, made up principally of dimers in the size range of lignans, with molecular weights from 272 to 344. A model lignan, the naturally occurring nordihydroguaiaretic acid (molecular weight 302), was shown to have very good effectiveness, as good as or better than BHT. (However, it is not likely to be present in our extracts, based on its mass spectral characteristics.) A suggested mechanism for antioxidant effectiveness of lignin-like dimers was proposed based on steric effects – simultaneous hydrogen bonding and radical quenching.

Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation

Samuel J. Gregory, Christopher W. N. Anderson , Marta Camps-Arbestain, Patrick J. Biggs, Austen R. D. Ganley, Justin M. O’Sullivan, Michael T. McManus (2015). “Biochar in Co-Contaminated Soil Manipulates Arsenic Solubility and Microbiological Community Structure, and Promotes Organochlorine Degradation.” PLOSOne, April 29, 2015.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125393

Abstract: We examined the effect of biochar on the water-soluble arsenic (As) concentration and the extent of organochlorine degradation in a co-contaminated historic sheep-dip soil during a 180-d glasshouse incubation experiment. Soil microbial activity, bacterial community and structure diversity were also investigated. Biochar made from willow feedstock (Salix sp) was pyrolysed at 350 or 550°C and added to soil at rates of 10 g kg-1 and 20 g kg-1 (representing 30 t ha-1 and 60 t ha-1). The isomers of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) alpha-HCH and gamma-HCH (lindane), underwent 10-fold and 4-fold reductions in concentration as a function of biochar treatment. Biochar also resulted in a significant reduction in soil DDT levels (P < 0.01), and increased the DDE:DDT ratio. Soil microbial activity was significantly increased (P < 0.01) under all biochar treatments after 60 days of treatment compared to the control. 16S amplicon sequencing revealed that biochar-amended soil contained more members of the Chryseobacterium, Flavobacterium, Dyadobacter and Pseudomonadaceae which are known bioremediators of hydrocarbons. We hypothesise that a recorded short-term reduction in the soluble As concentration due to biochar amendment allowed native soil microbial communities to overcome As-related stress. We propose that increased microbiological activity (dehydrogenase activity) due to biochar amendment was responsible for enhanced degradation of organochlorines in the soil. Biochar therefore partially overcame the co-contaminant effect of As, allowing for enhanced natural attenuation of organochlorines in soil.

Esterification of glycerol over a solid acid biochar catalyst derived from waste biomass

N. Lingaiah, Mahammad Rafi J., Rajashekar A, Srinivas M, BVSK Rao and Prasad B N R. (2015). “Esterification of glycerol over a solid acid biochar catalyst derived from waste biomass.” RSC Advances online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1039/C5RA06613A

Abstract: Karanja seed shells were subjected to pyrolysis in inert atmosphere at different temperatures to prepare biochar. The biochar was characterized by X-ray diffraction, FT-infra red, Laser Raman, thermo gravimetric analysis, CHNS-elemental analysis, BET surface area and temperature programmed desorption of ammonia. These biochar carbon catalysts were used as catalysts without any functionalization/treatment for the esterification of glycerol with acetic acid. Carbonization at 400 oC led to the formation of biochar with more number of strong acidic sites. High temperature carbonization amorphous carbon composed of aromatic carbon sheets oriented in a considerably random fashion. The biochar obtained at 400 oC exhibited highest glycerol esterification activity. The catalytic activity of the biochar was explained based on its properties derived from different characterization methods. The biochar catalyst can be reusable with consistent activity.

Biochar and Activated Carbon for Enhanced Trace Organic Contaminant Retention in Stormwater Infiltration Systems

Bridget Anne Ulrich, Eugenia Im, David Werner, and Christopher P. Higgins (2015). “Biochar and Activated Carbon for Enhanced Trace Organic Contaminant Retention in Stormwater Infiltration Systems.” Environmental Science & Technology, Just Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b00376.

Abstract: To assess the effectiveness of biochar and activated carbon (AC) for enhanced trace organic contaminant (TOrC) retention in stormwater infiltration systems, an approach combining forward-prediction modelling and laboratory verification experiments was employed. Batch and column tests were conducted using representative TOrCs and synthetic stormwater. Based on batch screening tests, two commercially available biochars (BN-biochar and MCG-biochar) and an AC were investigated. The AC exhibited the strongest sorption, followed by MCG-biochar and BN-biochar. Langmuir isotherms provided better fits to equilibrium data than Freundlich isotherms. Due to superior sorption kinetics, 0.2 wt% MCG-biochar in saturated sand columns retained TOrCs more effectively than 1.0 wt% BN-biochar. A forward-prediction intraparticle diffusion model based on the Langmuir isotherm adequately predicted column results when calibrated using only batch parameters, as indicated by a Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis. Case study simulations estimated that an infiltration basin amended with F300-AC or MCG-biochar could obtain sorption-retarded breakthrough times for atrazine of 54 years or 5.8 years, respectively, at a 1 in/hr infiltration rate. These results indicate that biochars or ACs with superior sorption capacity and kinetics can enhance TOrC retention in infiltration systems, and performance under various conditions can be predicted using results from batch tests.