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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 4, p. 1150-1156
    Received: Mar 30, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): jim.ippolito@ars.usda.gov
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Macroscopic and Molecular Investigations of Copper Sorption by a Steam-Activated Biochar

  1. J. A. Ippolito *a,
  2. D. G. Strawnb,
  3. K. G. Scheckelc,
  4. J. M. Novakd,
  5. M. Ahmedna and
  6. M. A. S. Niandoue
  1. a USDA–ARS, Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Lab., 3793 N. 3600E, Kimberly, ID 83341
    b Dep. of Plant, Soil, and Entomological Sciences, Univ. of Idaho, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, P.O. Box 442339, Moscow, ID 83844-2339
    c National Risk Management Research Lab., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 5995 Center Hill Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45224
    d USDA–ARS, Coastal Plains Research Center, Florence, SC 29501
    e Dep. of Human Environment and Family Sciences, North Carolina A&T Univ., Greensboro, NC 27411. Assigned to Associate Editor Géraldine Sarret


Excessive Cu concentrations in water systems can negatively affect biological systems. Because Cu can form strong associations with organic functional groups, we examined the ability of biochar (an O-C–enriched organic bioenergy by-product) to sorb Cu from solution. In a batch experiment, KOH steam–activated pecan shell biochar was shaken for 24 h in pH 6, 7, 8, or 9 buffered solutions containing various Cu concentrations to identify the effect of pH on biochar Cu sorption. Afterward, all biochar solids from the 24-h shaking period were air-dried and analyzed using X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) spectroscopy to determine solid-phase Cu speciation. In a separate batch experiment, biochar was shaken for 30 d in pH 6 buffered solution containing increasing Cu concentrations; the Cu sorption maximum was calculated based on the exponential rise to a maximum equation. Biochar sorbed increasing amounts of Cu as the solution pH decreased from 9 to 6. The XAFS spectroscopy revealed that Cu was predominantly sorbed onto a biochar organic phase at pH 6 in a molecular structure similar to Cu adsorbed on model humic acid (Cu–humic acid [HA]). The XAFS spectra at pH 7, 8, and 9 suggested that Cu was associated with the biochar as three phases: (i) a complex adsorbed on organic ligands similar to Cu-HA, (ii) carbonate phases similar to azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH2)), and (iii) a Cu oxide phase like tenorite (CuO). The exponential rise equation fit to the incubated samples predicted a Cu sorption maximum of 42,300 mg Cu kg−1. The results showed that KOH steam–activated pecan shell biochar could be used as a material for sorbing excess Cu from water systems, potentially reducing the negative effects of Cu in the environment.

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