Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » St. Paul, Minnesota » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #278191

Title: Evaluation of Sorbed Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) on Various Biochars

item Spokas, Kurt

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/2012
Publication Date: 7/31/2012
Citation: Spokas, K.A. 2012. Evaluation of Sorbed Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) on Various Biochars [abstract]. 2012 US Biochar Conference, July 29-Aug. 2, 2012, Sonoma, CA. Available at:

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Biochar is the name given to the chemical and/or thermal transformation of biomass feed stocks into a more stable carbon form for purposes of carbon sequestration. Soil has been the focused, but not exclusive, application target for biochar. Biochar additions have resulted in both positive and negative alterations in plant growth/yield and microbial soil processes, with some of these factors hypothesized linked to sorbed organic compounds. In the present work, we have determined the sorbed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content of approximately 90 unique biochars created from various suppliers, feedstocks, pyrolysis techniques, and post-production processing. From this analysis, naphthalene was the most commonly identified PAH sorbed to biochar. Similar to the sorbed volatile compounds, sorbed PAH concentrations are highly variable across different pyrolysis units; despite similarity in production temperature, feedstock and residency times. In general, higher pyrolysis temperatures lead to lower amounts of total PAH compounds being sorbed to the biochar. A couple of other trends are noteworthy. First, longer residency times typically result in lower total PAH concentrations. Second, there is no clear relationship across different pyrolysis units, but analogous to wood ash research, the initial moisture content of the feedstock appears be one of the controlling factors in the quantity of sorbed PAH compounds. Lastly, these sorbed PAH compounds on biochar do decompose (through abiotic mechanisms) on the biochar surface, so the time since production is also an important factor. Some biochars have total sorbed PAH concentrations that exceed regulatory guidance for soil amendments in some countries. However, in addition to post-processing, the data suggests that sorbed PAH content can be minimized through process control alterations and feedstock selection/processing.