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Comparative characteristics of biochar types from human faecal wastes and pine-bark and sorption of selected heavy metals from effluent and their mobility in an amended loam soil.

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Heavy metals from industrial effluents poses risks to the environment and human health. Pyrolysis of locally available organic wastes could address solid organic waste management and produce a biochar that could immobilise heavy metals in industrial effluents, at source, and in amended soils. Limited research work on characteristics and effectiveness, in addressing environmental challenges, of biochar from latrine waste, sewage sludge and pine bark which are ubiquitous organic wastes in South Africa. The aim of this study were to determine effects of pyrolysis temperature on yield, characteristics and sorption capacities of selected metals from solutions and effluents on biochar from latrine wastes, sewage sludge and pine-bark and on metal mobility in amended soil. The three materials were pyrolysed under limited oxygen at 350, 550 and 650°C. Proximate and ultimate analysis, surface area, porosity and functional groups were analysed on the biochar produced. Batch sorption studies were conducted to determine biochar sorption capacity with Cd, Zn, Cu and Cr in single metal solutions and for Zn, Cu and Cr from a multiple metal solution. A leaching column study was conducted using a loam soil amended with sewage sludge biochar at equivalent rates of 0, 50 and 100 kg ha-1 and the columns leached with industrial effluent while others were leached with distilled water, measuring pH, electrical conductivity, Zn, Cu and Cr in the leachate at each event and in three equal sections of the soil at the end of the experiment. A pot trial was conducted with spinach grown on a loam soil amended at 0, 25, 50 and 100t ha-1 of sewage sludge and latrine waste biochar pyrolysed at 350°C biochars and irrigated with 25% industrial effluent for some and tap water for others. Drymatter, tissue water content, Zn and Cu, and soil pH, EC, Zn and Cu were determined at the end of the trial. Latrine waste had higher biochar yield, ash content, surface area and pore volume, and lower fixed C and volatile matter than sewage sludge. Biochar yield, volatile matter, total C, N and H decreased with pyrolysis temperature, while ash content, surface area and porosity increased. Surface functional groups of the biochar also varied with feedstock and pyrolysis temperature. The Cd sorption capacities were higher for latrine waste biochar than from sewage sludge. Mixtures of pine bark biochar with latrine waste (1:1) or sewage sludge (1:3) biochar showed synergistic effects on Cd sorption. Sorption capacities of latrine waste, sewage sludge and pine- vi bark biochar (350°C) were, respectively, 312.5, 400 and 232.6 mg kg-1 for Zn, 102, 98.0 and 33.3 mg kg-1 for Cu, and 18.9, 13.8 and 67.1 mg kg-1 for Cr from industrial effluent. Conversely, sorption capacities biochar from latrine waste, sewage sludge and pine-bark, respectively, were 278, 227 and 357 mg Zn kg-1, 97.1, 137 and 21.3 mg Cu kg-1, and 122, 106.4 and 147.06 mg Cr kg-1 for single metal solutions. Addition of biochar did not affect shoot drymatter but affected root drymatter and tissue Zn and Cu, with higher Cu than Zn in the tissue. The additions of sewage sludge biochar to neutral, loam soil did not significantly reduce leaching of Cu and Zn from the applied effluent. Moreover, the application of biochar from both latrine waste and sewage sludge increased metal uptake by spinach in the same soil. The findings of this study imply that the characteristics of biochar from latrine waste, sewage sludge and pine bark are different and that faecal waste biochars show positive metal immobilization potential in batch equilibrium studies, but have little or negative effects when added to neutral soils even at extremely high application rates.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.