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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Development and characterization of activated biochar as electrode material for capacitive deionization Dehkhoda, Amir Mehdi


Biochar, a by-product of biomass pyrolysis, was investigated as a carbon-based electrode material for a water treatment method based on electrostatic adsorption/desorption of ions in electric double layers (EDLs) formed on the charged electrodes (capacitive deionization, CDI). Surface area, porous structure, and functional groups of biochar were developed, and corresponding effects on EDL capacitive performance were studied. A novel method was explored to tailor the micro- and meso-porous structures of activated biochar by exploiting the interaction between pre-carbonization drying conditions and carbonization temperature (475–1000 C) in a thermo-chemical process (KOH chemical activation). The mechanism of porosity development was investigated; results suggest that the conversion of KOH to K₂CO₃ under different drying conditions has a major role in tailoring the structure. The resultant surface area, micro- and meso-pore volumes were: 488–2670 m² g-¹, 0.04–0.72 cm³ g-¹, and 0.05–1.70 cm³ g-¹, respectively. Tailored biochar samples were investigated using physico-chemical surface characterization and electrochemical methods. For electrochemical testing, activated biochar was sprayed onto Ni mesh current collectors using Nafion® as binder. The majorly microporous activated biochar showed promising capacitances between 220 and 245 F g-¹ when 0.1 mol L-¹ NaCl/NaOH was used as the electrolyte. Addition of mesoporous structure resulted in significantly reduced electrode resistance (up to 80%) and improved capacitive behaviour due to enhanced ion transport within the pores. CDI of NaCl and ZnCl₂ solutions was investigated in a batch-mode unit through the use of tailored biochar electrodes. For NaCl removal, all samples showed promising capacity (up to 5.13 mg NaCl g-¹) and durability through four consecutive cycles. In contrast, in the case of ZnCl₂, the microporous sample showed a considerable drop in removal capacity (>75%) from cycle 1 to 4, whereas the combined micro- and mesoporous sample exhibited relatively small electrosorption capacity. Interestingly, the sample with mostly mesoporous structure has shown the highest removal capacity (1.15 mg ZnCl₂ g-¹) and durability for Zn²⁺ removal. These results emphasize the importance of tailoring the porous structure of biochar as a function of the specific size of adsorbate ions to improve the CDI performance.

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