Biochar production from microalgae cultivation through pyrolysis as a sustainable carbon sequestration and biorefinery approach

  • Kai Ling Yu
  • Pau Loke Show
  • Hwai Chyuan Ong
  • Tau Chuan Ling
  • Wei-Hsin Chen
  • Mohamad Amran Mohd Salleh
Original Paper


Microalgae cultivation and biomass to biochar conversion is a potential approach for global carbon sequestration in microalgal biorefinery. Excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is utilized in microalgal biomass cultivation for biochar production. In the current study, microalgal biomass productivity was determined using different CO2 concentrations for biochar production, and the physicochemical properties of microalgal biochar were characterized to determine its potential applications for carbon sequestration and biorefinery. The indigenous microalga Chlorella vulgaris FSP-E was cultivated in photobioreactors under controlled environment with different CO2 gas concentrations as the sole carbon source. Microalgal biomass pyrolysis was performed thereafter in a fixed-bed reactor to produce biochar and other coproducts. C. vulgaris FSP-E showed a maximum biomass productivity of 0.87 g L−1 day−1. A biochar yield of 26.9% was obtained from pyrolysis under an optimum temperature of 500 °C at a heating rate of 10 °C min−1. C. vulgaris FSP-E biochar showed an alkaline pH value of 8.1 with H/C and O/C atomic ratios beneficial for carbon sequestration and soil application. The potential use of microalgal biochar as an alternative coal was also demonstrated by the increased heating value of 23.42 MJ kg−1. C. vulgaris FSP-E biochar exhibited a surface morphology, thereby suggesting its applicability as a bio-adsorbent. The cultivation of microalgae C. vulgaris FSP-E and the production of its respective biochar is a potential approach as clean technology for carbon sequestration and microalgal biorefinery toward a sustainable environment.


Microalgal biochar Alternative coal Green technology Pyrolysis Carbon sequestration Environmental 



The authors would like to acknowledge the funding supports obtained from the University of Malaya under the RU grant (RF021A-2018) and SATU Joint Research Scheme (ST001-2017, ST002-2017, ST003-2017, ST004-2017, ST005-2017, ST006-2017, and RP031B-15AET).


  1. Alhashimi HA, Aktas CB (2017) Life cycle environmental and economic performance of biochar compared with activated carbon: a meta-analysis. Resour Conserv Recycl 118:13–26. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amin FR, Huang Y, He Y, Zhang R, Liu G, Chen C (2016) Biochar applications and modern techniques for characterization. Clean Technol Environ Policy 18:1457–1473. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Basu P (2010) Biomass characteristics. In: Basu P (ed) Biomass gasification and pyrolysis. Academic Press, Burlington, pp 27–63. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chaiwong K, Kiatsiriroat T, Vorayos N, Thararax C (2012) Biochar production from freshwater algae by slow pyrolysis. Maejo Int J Sci Technol 6(2):186–195Google Scholar
  5. Chaiwong K, Kiatsiriroat T, Vorayos N, Thararax C (2013) Study of bio-oil and bio-char production from algae by slow pyrolysis. Biomass Bioenergy 56:600–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chang Y-M, Tsai W-T, Li M-H (2015) Chemical characterization of char derived from slow pyrolysis of microalgal residue. J Anal Appl Pyrol 111:88–93. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheah WY, Show PL, Chang J-S, Ling TC, Juan JC (2015) Biosequestration of atmospheric CO2 and flue gas-containing CO2 by microalgae. Bioresour Technol 184:190–201. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chen C-Y et al (2015a) Improving protein production of indigenous microalga Chlorella vulgaris FSP-E by photobioreactor design and cultivation strategies. Biotechnol J 10:905–914. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chen W-H, Lin B-J, Huang M-Y, Chang J-S (2015b) Thermochemical conversion of microalgal biomass into biofuels: a review. Bioresour Technol 184:314–327. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen W-H, Peng J, Bi XT (2015c) A state-of-the-art review of biomass torrefaction, densification and applications. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 44:847–866. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chen C-Y, Chang Y-H, Chang H-Y (2016) Outdoor cultivation of Chlorella vulgaris FSP-E in vertical tubular-type photobioreactors for microalgal protein production. Algal Res 13:264–270. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coates J (2006) Interpretation of infrared spectra: a practical approach. In: Meyers RA (ed) Encyclopedia of analytical chemistry. Wiley, Hoboken. Google Scholar
  13. Ding Y-D, Zhao S, Zhu X, Liao Q, Fu Q, Huang Y (2016) Dynamic behaviour of the CO2 bubble in a bubble column bioreactor for microalgal cultivation. Clean Technol Environ Policy 18:2039–2047. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. El-Hendawy A-NA (2006) Variation in the FTIR spectra of a biomass under impregnation, carbonization and oxidation conditions. J Anal Appl Pyrol 75:159–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eloka-Eboka AC, Inambao FL (2017) Effects of CO2 sequestration on lipid and biomass productivity in microalgal biomass production. Appl Energy 195:1100–1111. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eriksen NT (2008) The technology of microalgal culturing. Biotechnol Lett 30:1525–1536. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grierson S, Strezov V, Ellem G, McGregor R, Herbertson J (2009) Thermal characterisation of microalgae under slow pyrolysis conditions. J Anal Appl Pyrol 85:118–123. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heilmann SM et al (2010) Hydrothermal carbonization of microalgae. Biomass Bioenergy 34:875–882CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hirano A, Ueda R, Hirayama S, Ogushi Y (1997) CO2 fixation and ethanol production with microalgal photosynthesis and intracellular anaerobic fermentation. Energy 22:137–142. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ho S-H, Chen C-Y, Lee D-J, Chang J-S (2011) Perspectives on microalgal CO2-emission mitigation systems—a review. Biotechnol Adv 29:189–198. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ho S-H, Huang S-W, Chen C-Y, Hasunuma T, Kondo A, Chang J-S (2013) Characterization and optimization of carbohydrate production from an indigenous microalga Chlorella vulgaris FSP-E. Bioresour Technol 135:157–165. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hodgson E, Lewys-James A, Ravella SR, Thomas-Jones S, Perkins W, Gallagher J (2016) Optimisation of slow-pyrolysis process conditions to maximise char yield and heavy metal adsorption of biochar produced from different feedstocks. Bioresour Technol 214:574–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ippolito JA, Laird DA, Busscher WJ (2012) Environmental benefits of biochar. J Environ Qual 41:967–972. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kumar G, Shobana S, Chen W-H, Bach Q-V, Kim S-H, Atabani A, Chang J-S (2017) A review of thermochemical conversion of microalgal biomass for biofuels: chemistry and processes. Green Chem 19:44–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lee XJ, Lee LY, Gan S, Thangalazhy-Gopakumar S, Ng HK (2017) Biochar potential evaluation of palm oil wastes through slow pyrolysis: thermochemical characterization and pyrolytic kinetic studies. Bioresour Technol 236:155–163. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lehmann J (2007) A handful of carbon. Nature 447:143–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maroušek J, Vochozka M, Plachý J, Žák J (2017) Glory and misery of biochar. Clean Technol Environ Policy 19:311–317. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mondal M et al (2017) Production of biodiesel from microalgae through biological carbon capture: a review. 3 Biotech 7:99. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mulabagal V, Baah DA, Egiebor NO, Chen W-Y (2017) Biochar from biomass: a strategy for carbon dioxide sequestration, soil amendment, power generation, and CO2 utilization. In: Chen W-Y, Suzuki T, Lackner M (eds) Handbook of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Springer, Cham, pp 1937–1974. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Silitonga A, Masjuki H, Ong HC, Mahlia T, Kusumo F (2017) Optimization of extraction of lipid from Isochrysis galbana microalgae species for biodiesel synthesis. Energy Sources Part A Recovery Util Environ Effects 39:1167–1175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Slade R, Bauen A (2013) Micro-algae cultivation for biofuels: cost, energy balance, environmental impacts and future prospects. Biomass Bioenergy 53:29–38. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Suganya T, Varman M, Masjuki H, Renganathan S (2016) Macroalgae and microalgae as a potential source for commercial applications along with biofuels production: a biorefinery approach. Renew Sustain Energy Rev 55:909–941CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tag AT, Duman G, Ucar S, Yanik J (2016) Effects of feedstock type and pyrolysis temperature on potential applications of biochar. J Anal Appl Pyrol 120:200–206. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tan Z, Wang Y, Kasiulienė A, Huang C, Ai P (2017) Cadmium removal potential by rice straw-derived magnetic biochar. Clean Technol Environ Policy 19:761–774. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Thangalazhy-Gopakumar S, Adhikari S, Chattanathan SA, Gupta RB (2012) Catalytic pyrolysis of green algae for hydrocarbon production using H + ZSM-5 catalyst. Bioresour Technol 118:150–157. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ubando AT, Culaba AB, Aviso KB, Ng DKS, Tan RR (2014) Fuzzy mixed-integer linear programming model for optimizing a multi-functional bioenergy system with biochar production for negative carbon emissions. Clean Technol Environ Policy 16:1537–1549. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang T, Arbestain MC, Hedley M, Bishop P (2012) Chemical and bioassay characterisation of nitrogen availability in biochar produced from dairy manure and biosolids. Org Geochem 51:45–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wei J, Sun W, Pan W, Yu X, Sun G, Jiang H (2017) Comparing the effects of different oxygen-containing functional groups on sulfonamides adsorption by carbon nanotubes: experiments and theoretical calculation. Chem Eng J 312:167–179. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wilk M, Magdziarz A (2017) Hydrothermal carbonization, torrefaction and slow pyrolysis of Miscanthus giganteus. Energy 140:1292–1304. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yu KL et al (2017a) Recent developments on algal biochar production and characterization. Bioresour Technol 246:2–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yu KL, Show PL, Ong HC, Ling TC, Chi-Wei Lan J, Chen W-H, Chang J-S (2017b) Microalgae from wastewater treatment to biochar—feedstock preparation and conversion technologies. Energy Convers Manag 150:1–13. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zhang X et al (2013) Using biochar for remediation of soils contaminated with heavy metals and organic pollutants. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20:8472–8483. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Zheng H et al (2017) Adsorption of p-nitrophenols (PNP) on microalgal biochar: analysis of high adsorption capacity and mechanism. Bioresour Technol. Google Scholar
  44. Zhou J, Chen H, Huang W, Arocena JM, Ge S (2015) Sorption of atrazine, 17α-estradiol, and phenanthrene on wheat straw and peanut shell biochars. Water Air Soil Pollut 227:7. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kai Ling Yu
    • 1
  • Pau Loke Show
    • 2
  • Hwai Chyuan Ong
    • 3
  • Tau Chuan Ling
    • 1
  • Wei-Hsin Chen
    • 4
  • Mohamad Amran Mohd Salleh
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Institute of Biological Sciences, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Bioseparation Research GroupUniversity of Nottingham Malaysia CampusSemenyihMalaysia
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of EngineeringUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  4. 4.Department of Aeronautics and AstronauticsNational Cheng Kung UniversityTainanTaiwan
  5. 5.Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of EngineeringUniversiti Putra MalaysiaSerdangMalaysia
  6. 6.Material Processing and Technology Laboratory, Institute of Advanced Technology (ITMA)Universiti Putra MalaysiaSerdangMalaysia

Personalised recommendations