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Individual Highlight

Life Cycle Assessment of Activated Carbon from Woody Biomass

Photo of Activated carbon made from biochar activated using steam in a rotary calciner.Activated carbon made from biochar activated using steam in a rotary calciner.Snapshot : Expanding biofuels and bioproducts production using forest biomass as feedstock contributes to not only alternatives to U.S. fossil fuels, but also facilitates forest restoration treatments by providing new markets for management of woody biomass residues. This study quantified and compared the environmental performance of biobased active carbon (AC) made from forest restoration sources to coal-based AC and highlighted potential technologies for carbonization and activation. The most significant environmental advantage for biochar AC was the primary energy consumption reduction and associated reduction in global warming.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Gu, HongmeiBergman, Richard, PhD
Anderson, Nathaniel (Nate)Alanya-Rosenbaum, Sevda
Research Station : Forest Products Laboratory (FPL)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1596


In this USDA Forest Service study, almost 35 percent less energy was required for cradle-to-gate biochar active carbon (AC) production than coal AC production. This was because most fossil energy use for biochar AC came from the carbonization and activation processes, while little fossil energy usage came from upstream feedstock preparation processes. The results from this study also showed the total global warming impact for wood biochar AC about half of that for coal AC. Most other life cycle impacts for biochar AC production were also lower than coal AC. The study also demonstrated the feasibility of converting forest and mill residues into the AC product streams for wastewater filtration using the technologies examined in this research. The physical properties of the biochar AC, including Brunauer-Emmett-Teller surface area and iodine number, were both superior to the commercial coal-based AC product on the market. Promising results from this study for biochar-based AC open up a potential high-value market for mill residues or forest residues after restoration and wildfire suppression treatment.  

Additional Resources

Undefined resource(publication)

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Tucker Engineering Associate