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Keywords:

  • biochar characterization;
  • nutrient recovery;
  • pyrolysis;
  • soil amendment;
  • willow

Pyrolysis is an energy conversion technology which by heating organic materials in the absence of oxygen, produces liquid, gaseous, and solid fuel products. Biochar, the solid product, can also be used as a soil amendment and, simultaneously, enables us to sequester carbon in the soil.

By controlling the pyrolysis process, it is possible to engineer biochar suitable for the remediation of specific soil management problems. This research uses a characterization method more suited to producing biochar for soil amendment purposes than the existing biochar fuel characterization standards.

This is the first research to use wastewater irrigated willow as a pyrolysis feedstock. The extensive characterization of biochar produced over a range of temperatures (410–810°C) yielded data on key properties relevant to soil under management: low surface area (1.4 to 5.4 m2/g), low bulk density (0.15–0.18 g/cm3), high pH values (7.8–9.4) and high water-holding capacity (1.8 to 4.3 cm3/g). Extraction experiments demonstrated low bioavailability of char nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, and Mg).

This research also studied this artificial nitrogen cycle of pyrolysis: nitrogen accumulated in the wood from the wastewater and high levels of nitrogen remained in the biochar in a stable form not directly available to plants. © 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environ Prog, 33: 490–496, 2014