Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 889–895 | Cite as

Steam activation of biochars facilitates kinetics and pH-resilience of sulfamethazine sorption

  • Anushka Upamali Rajapaksha
  • Meththika Vithanage
  • Sang Soo Lee
  • Dong-Cheol Seo
  • Daniel C. W. Tsang
  • Yong Sik Ok
Soils, Sec 2 • Global Change, Environ Risk Assess, Sustainable Land Use • Research Article



Sulfamethazine (SMT) is increasingly detected in environmental matrices due to its versatile use as antibiotics. We aimed to investigate the benefits and roles of steam activation of biochars with respect to SMT sorption kinetics and equilibrium sorption.

Materials and methods

Biochars were produced from burcucumber plant and tea waste using a pyrolyzer at a temperature of 700 °C for 2 h. The biochar samples were treated with 5 mL min−1 of steam for an additional 45 min for post-synthesis steam activation. The SMT sorption on the unmodified and steam activated biochars were compared.

Results and discussion

The time taken to reach equilibrium was significantly less for steam activated biochars (∼4 h) than non-activated biochars (>24 h). Up to 98 % of SMT could be removed from aqueous solutions by steam activated biochars. The sorption kinetic behaviors were well described by the pseudo-second model and SMT sorption rates of steam activated biochars (k 2 ∼ 1.11–1.57 mg g−1 min−1) were significantly higher than that of the unmodified biochars (k 2 ∼ 0.04–0.11 mg g−1 min−1) because of increased availability of accessible porous structure with averagely larger pore diameters. Moreover, the equilibrium sorption on the unmodified biochars was significantly influenced by increasing solution pH (∼30–50 % reduction) because of speciation change of SMT, whereas steam activated biochars manifested much stronger sorption resilience against pH variation (∼2–4 % reduction only) because the enhanced porosity offset the effect of unfavorable electrostatic repulsion.


The observed features of steam activated biochars would render their applications more versatile and reliable in field throughout changeable environmental conditions.


Antibiotics Charcoal Designer biochar Engineered biochar Sorption kinetics 



This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2015R1A2A2A11001432).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anushka Upamali Rajapaksha
    • 1
    • 2
  • Meththika Vithanage
    • 2
  • Sang Soo Lee
    • 1
  • Dong-Cheol Seo
    • 3
  • Daniel C. W. Tsang
    • 4
  • Yong Sik Ok
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Korea Biochar Research CenterKangwon National UniversityChuncheonSouth Korea
  2. 2.Chemical and Environmental Systems Modeling Research Group, Institute of Fundamental StudiesKandySri Lanka
  3. 3.Department of Bio-Environmental SciencesSunchon National UniversitySunchonSouth Korea
  4. 4.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringHong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHong KongChina

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