Fixed bed column experiments using cotton gin waste and walnut shells-derived biochar as low-cost solutions to removing pharmaceuticals from aqueous solutions

Marlene C. Ndoun, Allan Knopf, Heather E. Preisendanz, Natasha Vozenilek, Herschel A. Elliott, Michael L. Mashtare, Stephanie Velegol, Tamie L. Veith, Clinton F. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Acetaminophen (ACT), sulfapyridine (SPY), ibuprofen (IBP) and docusate (DCT) are pharmaceuticals with widespread usage that experience incomplete removal in wastewater treatment systems. While further removal of these pharmaceuticals from wastewater effluent is desired prior to beneficial reuse, additional treatment technologies are often expensive and energy intensive. This study evaluated the ability of biochar produced from cotton gin waste (CG700) and walnut shells (WS800) to remove four pharmaceuticals (ACT, SPY, IBP, and DCT) from aqueous solution. Physico-chemical properties of the biochars were characterized by Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) analysis, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR), and zeta potential. The increased pyrolysis temperature during the production of WS800 led to an increase in the specific surface area and increased dehydration of the biochar represented by the loss of the OH-group. Fixed-bed column experiments were performed to determine the difference in removal efficiency between the biochars and elucidate the effects of biochar properties on the adsorption capacity for the pharmaceuticals of interest. Results showed that CG700 had a greater affinity for removing DCT (99%) and IBP (50%), while WS800 removed 72% of SPY and 68% of ACT after 24 h. Adsorption was influenced by the solution pH, surface area, net charge, and functional groups of the biochars. The mechanisms for removal included pore filling and diffusion, hydrophobic interactions, hydrogen bonding, and π-π electron donor acceptor interactions. To conduct predictive modeling of the column breakthrough curves, the Thomas, Adams-Bohart, and Yoon-Nelson models were applied to the experimental data. Results demonstrated that these models generally provided a poor fit for the description of asymmetrical breakthrough curves. Overall, the results demonstrate that biochars from cotton gin waste and walnut shells could be used as cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternatives to activated carbon for the removal of pharmaceuticals from aqueous solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number138591
StatePublished - Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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