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Solvent-Extractable Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Biochar: Influence of Pyrolysis Temperature and Feedstock

TitleSolvent-Extractable Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Biochar: Influence of Pyrolysis Temperature and Feedstock
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsKeiluweit M, Kleber M, Sparrow MA, Simoneit BRT, Prahl FG
Journal TitleEnvironmental Science & Technology
Pages9333 - 9341

Despite the increasing agricultural use of biochar as a way of combining the utilization of biomass for energy production with the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, it is not known how variations in pyrolysis temperature and feedstock type affect concentration and composition of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that inevitably form and associate with biochar. To close this knowledge gap, we quantified 11 unsubstituted three- to five-ring PAHs as well as alkylated forms of phenanthrene and anthracene in grass and wood chars produced in 100 °C increments across a temperature range (100 to 700 °C). Our results show that solvent-extractable PAH concentrations in biochars produced at heat treatment temperatures (HTTs) of 400 and 500 °C greatly exceed those observed at higher and lower temperature, supporting a low HTT solid-phase formation mechanism operable at temperatures commonly used for industrial biochar production. The maximum extractable yield of ‘pyrolytic’ unsubstituted PAHs for grass (22 μg g–1 at HTT = 500 °C) greatly exceeds the value for wood (5.9 μg g–1). Moreover, PAH signatures (e.g., total monomethylphenanthrene to phenanthrene ratios, MP/P 2–3) at intermediate temperatures (400 °C) resemble those of fossil oils rather than that commonly attributed to pyrolytic products. Further research is needed to characterize the PAH evolution in modern pyrolysis reactors and assess the fate of biochar-bound PAHs in soils and sediments. Various commonly applied PAH ratios and indicator compounds show promise as markers for specific feedstock materials and pyrolysis conditions of biochars in environmental systems.