Metal interactions at the biochar-water interface: energetics and structure-sorption relationships elucidated by flow adsorption microcalorimetry. Academic Article uri icon


  • Plant-derived biochars exhibit large physicochemical heterogeneity due to variations in biomass chemistry and combustion conditions. However, the influence of biochar heterogeneity on biochar-metal interaction mechanisms has not been systematically described. We used flow adsorption microcalorimetry to study structure-sorption relationships between twelve plant-derived biochars and two metals (K(+) and Cd(2+)) of different Lewis acidity. Irrespective of the biochar structure, sorption of K(+) (a hard Lewis acid) occurred predominantly on deprotonated functional groups via ion exchange with molar heats of adsorption (H(ads)) of -4 kJ mol(-1) to -8 kJ mol(-1). By comparison, although ion exchange could not be completely ruled out, our data pointed to Cd(2+) (a soft Lewis acid) sorption occurring predominantly via two distinct cation- bonding mechanisms, each with H(ads) of +17 kJ mol(-1). The first, evident in low charge-low carbonized biochars, suggested Cd(2+)- bonding to soft ligands such as -C O; while the second, evident in low charge-highly carbonized biochars, pointed to Cd(2+)- bonding with electron-rich domains on aromatic structures. Quantitative contributions of these mechanisms to Cd(2+) sorption can exceed 3 times that expected for ion exchange and therefore could have significant implications for the biogeochemical cycling of metals in fire-impacted or biochar-amended systems.

published proceedings

  • Environ Sci Technol

author list (cited authors)

  • Harvey, O. R., Herbert, B. E., Rhue, R. D., & Kuo, L.

citation count

  • 330

complete list of authors

  • Harvey, Omar R||Herbert, Bruce E||Rhue, Roy D||Kuo, Li-Jung

publication date

  • July 2011