Composition of PAHs in biochar and implications for biochar production

Wolfram Buss*, Isabel Hilber, Margaret Graham, Ondrej Masek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The content of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in biochar has been studied extensively; however, the links between biomass feedstock, production process parameters, and the speciation of PAHs in biochar are understudied. Such an understanding is crucial, as the health effects of individual PAHs vary greatly. Naphthalene (NAP) is the least toxic of the 16 US EPA PAHs but comprises the highest proportion of PAHs in biochar. Therefore, we investigate which parameters favor high levels of non-NAP PAHs (∑16 US EPA PAHs without NAP) in a set of 73 biochars. On average, the content of non-NAP PAHs was 9 ± 29 mg kg -1 (median 0.9 mg kg -1). Importantly, during the production of the biochars with the highest non-NAP PAH contents, the conditions in the post-pyrolysis area, where pyrolysis vapors and biochar are separated, favored condensation and deposition of PAHs on biochar. Under these conditions, NAP condensed to a lower degree because of its high vapor pressure. In biochars not contaminated through this process, the average non-NAP content was only 2 ± 3 mg kg -1 (median 0.5 mg kg -1). Uneven heat distribution and vapor trapping during pyrolysis and cool zones in the post-pyrolysis area need to be avoided. This demonstrates that the most important factor yielding high contents of toxic PAHs in biochar was neither a specific pyrolysis parameter nor the feedstock but the pyrolysis unit design, which can be modified to produce clean and safe biochar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6755-6765
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • PAH
  • biochar
  • naphthalene
  • pyrolysis
  • toxicity equivalent factor


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