Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol.66, 176-185, 2014
New approaches to measuring biochar density and porosity
It is clear that the density and porosity of biochar will impact its mobility in the environment, its interaction with the soil hydrologic cycle, and its suitability as an ecological niche for soil microorganisms. However, the wide range of biochar pore sizes complicates biochar porosity characterization, making it challenging to find methods appropriate to connect the fundamental physical properties of density and porosity to environmental outcomes. Here, we report the use of two fast, simple density measurement techniques to characterize biochar density and porosity. We measured biochar skeletal density by helium pycnometry and envelope density by displacement of a dry granular suspension. We found that biochar skeletal density ranged from 1.34 g cm(-3) to 1.96 g cm(-3), and increased with pyrolysis temperature. Biochar envelope density ranged from 0.25 g cm(-3) to 0.60 g cm(-3), and was higher for wood biochars than grass biochars a difference we attribute to plant cell structures preserved during pyrolysis. We compared the pore volumes measured by pycnometry with those measured by nitrogen gas sorption and mercury porosimetry. We show that biochar pore volumes measured by pycnometry are comparable to the values obtained by mercury porosimetry, the current benchmark method. We also show that the majority of biochar pore volume is in macropores, and thus, is not measured by gas sorption analysis. These fast, simple techniques can now be used to study the relationship between biochar's physical properties and its environmental behaviors. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.