Corn is the primary agricultural crop in the United States and also one of its most wasteful. About half of the crop – stems, leaves, pods and ears – remains as waste after the kernels have been removed from the ears. These leftovers, known as corn stalks, have little commercial or industrial use outside of combustion. A new paper written by engineers at UC Riverside describes an energy-efficient way to put corn stalks back into the economy by turning them into activated carbon for use in water treatment.
Activated carbon, also known as activated carbon, is a carbonized biological material that has been processed to create millions of microscopic pores that increase the material’s absorption capacity. It has many industrial uses, the most common of which is to filter pollutants from drinking water.
Kandis Leslie Abdul-Aziz, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside, runs a laboratory dedicated to the reintroduction of harmful wastes such as plastic and plant waste known as biomass in the economy by recycling them. into valuable products.
“I think as engineers we need to take the lead in creating approaches that convert waste into high-value materials, fuels and chemicals, which will create new value chains and eliminate the environmental damage that comes with it. of the current “take-do-eliminate” model. Said Abdul-Aziz.
Abdul-Aziz, with doctoral students Mark Gale and Tu Nguyen, and former UC Riverside student Marissa Moreno at Riverside City College, compared methods of producing activated charcoal from charred corn stalks and found that Treating biomass with hot compressed water, a process known as hydrothermal carbonization, produces activated carbon which absorbs 98% of the water pollutant vanillin.
Hydrothermal charring created a biochar with a higher surface area and larger pores compared to slow pyrolysis – a process where the corn stalk is charred at increasing temperatures over a long period of time. When the researchers filtered the water that had vanillin added through the activated carbon, its combination of a larger surface area and larger pores allowed the carbon to absorb more vanillin.
“Finding applications for unused resources such as corn stalks is imperative to tackling climate change. This research adds value to the biomass industry, which can further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Gale said.
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Material provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Holly Ober. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.