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What is the context of this research?
Biochar is produced from heating biomass in a restricted oxygen environment. Traditionally this process has been used to generate cooking charcoal. Our lab and field research has shown some traditional charcoals to exhibit significant sorption capacity for herbicide. However, traditional charcoal production systems are energy inefficient and highly polluting.
We have shown that highly adsorbing biochar can be produced from surplus biomass using low-tech, efficient and environmentally friendly gasifier drum ovens. They are constructed from common, inexpensive local materials using only simple hand tools and without the need for electricity.
Our next step is to collect pollutant sorption data using lab micro-columns that can be scaled up to predict real world biochar adsorber performance.
What is the significance of this project?
Exposure to synthetic chemical contaminants (SCCs) such as pesticides and human/livestock pharmaceutical residues in drinking water has been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption, neurological dysfunctions, damage to internal organs, and a wide variety of other deleterious health effects.
Unfortunately, major international water development initiatives focus exclusively on microbial pathogens (the most immediate threat to health) while neglecting SCCs.
This project advances sustainable and locally managed treatment systems employing adsorbent biochar as an effective, affordable and accessible means for providing drinking water that is microbiologically and chemically safe to households and communities in remote and impoverished regions of the world.
What are the goals of the project?
Using a modeling approach, we have developed rapid laboratory micro-column tests that provide scalable pollutant sorption data. These data can predict the performance of full-scale biochar units treating surface waters.
This is crucial for informing the design and operation of real-world treatment systems incorporating biochar to ensure production of safe water.
With this funding, we will purchase chemical reagents and laboratory hardware and supplies for carrying out a campaign of micro-column pollutant sorption studies investigating a wide range of low-cost, sustainably generated biochar adsorbents.
Our findings will be published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as made available in popular, accessible format (including translation into several languages) through aqsolutions.org.