Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 18, pp 18636–18650 | Cite as

New insights into contrasting mechanisms for PAE adsorption on millimeter, micron- and nano-scale biochar

  • Shaoqiang Ma
  • Fanqi Jing
  • Saran P. Sohi
  • Jiawei ChenEmail author
Research Article


Biochar is being examined as a potential sorbent for organic pollutants in the environment including phthalate esters (PAEs). It has been noted that nano-scale biochar particles displayed stronger migration potential than other particles, which poses the potential risk of pollutant transfer through the environment. In this present study, we examined the influence of sub-millimeter (200–600 μm), micron-scale (10–60 μm), and nano-scale (0.1–0.6 μm) biochar on diethyl phthalate (DEP, as a model) adsorption using particles derived from corn straw and rice husk biochar. Meanwhile, the interaction between adsorption capacity and initial pH was also considered. Our results showed that the adsorption capacity of biochar for DEP increased with decreasing particle size, and was considerably higher for nano-scale biochar than for other particles. This was attributable to its developed pore structure and higher specific surface area (SSA), especially the dominant micropore (292.73 m2/g), suggesting that the adsorption of DEP to nano-scale biochar was dominated by pore-filling rather than π-π EDA and H bonding that was applied to biochar of larger, more typical dimensions. The adsorption capacity of nano-scale biochar for DEP was markedly decreased when initial pH was decreased from 9.0 to 3.0. Because an acid environment could reduce the absolute surface charge on nano-scale biochar, it was easier for the particles to agglomerate. Nano-scale biochar therefore have higher activity in alkaline conditions, which could pose certain risks through their application into the environment.


Biochar Nano-scale DEP Adsorption pH Pore-filling 



We also thank for CUGB Key Foreign Experts Visiting Program and Famous Teacher Auditorium Program for Dr. Saran P. Sohi (2016, 2017).

Funding information

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41472232, 41731282, 41272061) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2652017234).

Supplementary material

11356_2019_5181_MOESM1_ESM.docx (609 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 609 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Biogeology and Environmental GeologyChina University of GeosciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.School of Earth Sciences and ResourcesChina University of GeosciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.UK Biochar Research Centre, School of GeoSciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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