(490f) Physical and Chemical Structure of Biochars Produced From Different Feedstocks and Under a Variety of Pyrolysis Conditions

Authors: 
Zygourakis, K., Rice University
Sun, H., Rice University
Masiello, C. A., Rice University
Hockaday, W. C., Baylor University


      Effective
carbon sequestration must be based on sustainable processes that provide safe,
stable carbon sinks with enough capacity to sequester a substantial fraction of
anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Soil amendment with biochar made by
pyrolyzing biomass is a promising new approach with the potential to sequester
large amounts of atmospheric carbon. At the same time, strong evidence suggests
that amending soils with charcoal may increase soil fertility, improve soil
drainage and help manage nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient pollution.

      Our
group has undertaken a systematic study to determine the pyrolysis conditions
that lead to highly stable biochars with good carbon sequestration capacity and
the ability to improve soil fertility. 
We report here results from our recent experiments with two biomass
feedstocks: corn stover and apple wood. Particles of various sizes from both
feedstocks were pyrolyzed in a computer-controlled fixed bed reactor under
flowing nitrogen.  The custom-built
computer software combining feedforward and feedback control allowed us to
accurately program the temperature history of pyrolyzing biomass samples.
Heating rates from 0.1 to 1°C/s, final heat treatment temperatures (HTT) between 450 and 600°C and
various exposure times to the final temperature were used for these
experiments.

      The
chemical and physical structure of the produced biochars were characterized
with a battery of analytical techniques that included 13C NMR, XPS
and BET pore surface analysis. The NMR studies revealed that the produced
biochars consist of condensed aromatic ring clusters whose size was strongly
affected by the final heat treatment temperature (HTT).  The clusters in biochars produced at a
HTT of 450°C contained about ten carbon atoms, while the average number of
carbon atoms per cluster increased to about 25 for biochars produced at a HTT
of 600°C.  The size of aromatic ring clusters was
not affected by any other pyrolysis condition (heating rate, particle size
etc.).  XPS measurements were also
carried out to quantify the chemical composition of the external surface of the
biochar particles.

      Our
BET measurements showed that the surface area of the smaller pores was
primarily determined by the biomass feedstock, with the biochars produced from
corn stover having significantly smaller BET areas (5-70 m2/g) than
biochars produced from apple wood chips (70-340 m2/g).  The final HTT also had a strong
influence on the BET areas, while the pyrolysis heating rate had a much smaller
effect.

      Images
obtained with scanning electron microscopy show that the produced biochars have
an extended network of larger pores with sizes of the order of a few microns.
Such large pores cannot be quantified by BET analysis. However, they play a
significant role in determining the ability of biochars to absorb and retain
water and water-soluble nutrients. 
In order to study the accessibility of the small and large pores from
the exterior of biochar particles, we carried out a systematic study of biochar
combustion with air in a thermogravimetric reactor.  The patterns of biochar reactivity vs. conversion were
computed form combustion temperatures ranging from the regime of kinetic
control (325-400°C) to
the regime of intraparticle pore diffusion control (500-700°C).  Significant differences in the reactivity patterns obtained
for the two regimes were observed. 
While the reactivity in the kinetic control regime reaches a maximum at
conversions between 30-40%, the reactivity in the diffusion control regime
continues to increase until conversion levels as high as 80% are reached and
drops rapidly as the combustion reaction approaches completion. A careful
analysis of these reactivity patterns using well-established theoretical models
provides strong evidence that the biochars produced under a wide variety of
conditions have an extensive network of interconnected large pores. 

      Finally,
we will discuss the implications of these findings to connect the chemical and
physical structure of biochars to their ability to absorb, retain and release
water and water-soluble nutrients.