Driving forces and barriers in the removal of phosphorus from water using crop residue, wood and sewage sludge derived biochars

Patrick M. Melia, Rosa Busquets*, Peter S. Hooda, Andrew B. Cundy, Saran P. Sohi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The removal of phosphorus (P) from sewage effluents is necessary to control eutrophication in receiving waters. Biochar has been proposed and is investigated for the capture and reuse of P, however the forces driving and limiting P adsorption are still largely unclear. To identify the forces governing P uptake by biochar, biochars with markedly different physicochemical characteristics derived from a variety of biomass (oilseed rape straw, wheat straw, miscanthus straw, rice husk, soft wood and sewage sludge residue), pyrolysed at various temperatures, were investigated. The biochar samples were characterised in terms of pH, electrical conductivity, total acidity, carbon chemistry, metal composition, surface area , and porosity, and the uptake and release of P was compared to the biochar properties using multivariate analysis. Uptake of P by the biochars as such was low (< 0.71 mg P/g biochar with feed solutions of 50 mg P/l) and, among the variables studied, the biochars' Ca and Mg content was key in P removal and found to be pH dependant. Enhancement of biochar surface area and porosity was carried out by activation with CO 2 at 800 °C and the uptake significantly improved (p < 0.05) (i.e. an increased surface area from <20 m 2 /g up to 781 m 2 /g gave a limited improvement in P removal to <1.2 mg P/g biochar at feed level of 50 mg P/l). These results confirm that the potential to use these unmodified biochars derived from a variety of biomass for P sorption is low, but that the material provides properties that may be modified or enhanced to increase sorption capacity. This study indicates that biochar/biochar feedstock with greater content of Ca and Mg will be more advantageous for P capture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-631
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2019


  • Biochar
  • Characterisation
  • P removal
  • Pyrolysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Driving forces and barriers in the removal of phosphorus from water using crop residue, wood and sewage sludge derived biochars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this