Evaluation of pilot-scale biochar-amended woodchip bioreactors to remove nitrate, metals, and trace organic contaminants from urban stormwater runoff.


Re-inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, USA; Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


Stormwater is increasingly being valued as a freshwater resource in arid regions and can provide opportunities for beneficial reuse via aquifer recharge if adequate pollutant removal can be achieved. We envision a multi-unit operation approach to capture, treat, and recharge (CTR) stormwater using low energy, cost-effective technologies appropriate for larger magnitude, less frequent events. Herein, we tested nutrient, metal, and trace organic contaminant removal of a pilot-scale CTR system in the laboratory using biochar-amended woodchip bioreactors following eight months of aging under field conditions with exposure to real stormwater. Replicate columns with woodchips and biochar (33% by weight), woodchips and straw, or woodchips only were operated with continuous, saturated flow for eight months using water from a watershed that drained an urban area consisting of residential housing and parks in Sonoma, California. After aging, columns were challenged for five months by continuous exposure to synthetic stormwater amended with 50 μg L-1 of six trace organic contaminants (i.e., fipronil, diuron, 1H-benzotriazole, atrazine, 2,4-D, and TCEP) and five metals (Cd, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn) frequently detected in stormwater in order to replicate the treatment unit operation of a CTR system. Throughout the eight-month aging and five-month challenge experiment, nitrate concentrations were below the detection limit after treatment (i.e., <0.05 mg N L-1). The removal efficiencies for metals in all treatments were >80% for Ni, Cu, Cd, and Pb. For Zn, about 50% removal occurred in the woodchip-biochar systems while the other systems achieved about 20% removal. No breakthrough of the trace organic compounds was observed in any biochar-containing columns. Woodchip columns without biochar removed approximately 99% of influent atrazine and 90% of influent fipronil, but exhibited relatively rapid breakthrough of TCEP, 2,4-D, 1H-benzotriazole, and diuron. The addition of straw to the woodchip columns provided no significant benefit compared to woodchips alone. Due to the lack of breakthrough of trace organics in the biochar-woodchip columns, we estimated column breakthrough with a diffusion-limited sorption model. Results of the model indicate breakthrough for the trace organics would occur between 10,000 and 32,000 pore volumes. Under ideal conditions this could be equivalent to decades of service, assuming failure by other processes (e.g., clogging, biofouling) does not occur. These results indicate that multiple contaminants can be removed in woodchip-biochar reactors employed in stormwater treatment systems with suitable flow control and that the removal of trace organic contaminants is enhanced significantly by addition of biochar.


Biochar,Metals,Nitrate,Stormwater treatment,Trace organic contaminants,Woodchip bioreactor,