Evaluating biochar and its modifications for the removal of ammonium, nitrate, and phosphate in water

Ming Zhang, Ge Song, Danielle L. Gelardi, Longbin Huang, Eakalak Khan, Ondřej Mašek, Sanjai J. Parikh, Yong Sik Ok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Removal of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from water through the use of various sorbents is often considered an economically viable way for supplementing conventional methods. Biochar has been widely studied for its potential adsorption capabilities for soluble N and P, but the performance of different types of biochars can vary widely. In this review, we summarized the adsorption capacities of biochars in removing N (NH4-N and NO3-N) and P (PO4-P) based on the reported data, and discussed the possible mechanisms and influencing factors. In general, the NH4-N adsorption capacity of unmodified biochars is relatively low, at levels of less than 20 mg/g. This adsorption is mainly via ion exchange and/or interactions with oxygen-containing functional groups on biochar surfaces. The affinity is even lower for NO3-N, because of electrostatic repulsion by negatively charged biochar surfaces. Precipitation of PO4-P by metals/metal oxides in biochar is the primary mechanism for PO4-P removal. Biochars modified by metals have a significantly higher capacity to remove NH4-N, NO3-N, and PO4-P than unmodified biochar, due to the change in surface charge and the increase in metal oxides on the biochar surface. Ambient conditions in the aqueous phase, including temperature, pH, and co-existing ions, can significantly alter the adsorption of N and P by biochars, indicating the importance of optimal processing parameters for N and P removal. However, the release of endogenous N and P from biochar to water can impede its performance, and the presence of competing ions in water poses practical challenges for the use of biochar for nutrient removal. This review demonstrates that progress is needed to improve the performance of biochars and overcome challenges before the widespread field application of biochar for N and P removal is realized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116303
JournalWater Research
Early online date14 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


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