Black carbon (pyrogenic materials including chars) in soils has been recognized as a substantial portion of soil organic matter, and has been shown to play a vital role in nutrient cycling; however, little is known concerning the properties of this material. Previous studies have largely been concerned with the creation of high-surface-area materials for use as sorbents. These materials have been manufactured at high temperature and have often been activated. Chars occurring in the environment can be formed over a wide range of temperature. Because it is extremely difficult to isolate black carbon once it has been incorporated in soils, chars produced in the laboratory under controlled conditions can be used to investigate the range of properties possible for natural chars.
This report shows that charring conditions (temperature and time) have substantial impact on the acid functional group and lactone content of chars. Low temperatures (250?C) and long charring times (greater than 72 hours) produce chars with the highest acid functional group and lactone content. The charring of cellulose appears to be responsible for the creation of the acid functional group and lactones.
The significance of this study is that low-temperature chars can have acid functional group contents comparable to humic materials (as high as 8.8 milliequivalents per gram). Acid functional group and lactone content decreases as charring temperature increases. The variation in formation conditions expected under natural fire conditions will result in a wide range of sorption properties for natural chars which are an important component of soil organic matter. By controlling the temperature and duration of charring, it is possible to tailor the sorption properties of chars, which may be used as soil amendments.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Development of Acid Functional Groups and Lactones During the Thermal Degradation of Wood and Wood Components