Predicting the impact of biochar on the saturated hydraulic conductivity of natural and engineered media

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If biochar is applied to soil or stormwater treatment media, the saturated hydraulic conductivity (K) may be altered, which is a critical property affecting media performance. While a significant number of studies document biochar's effect on a porous medium's K, predictive models are lacking. Herein models are advanced for predicting K for repacked natural soil and engineered media when amended with biochar of various particle sizes and application rates. Experiments were conducted using three repacked natural soils, two uniform sands, and a bioretention medium amended with a wood biochar sieved to seven different biochar particle size distributions and applied at three rates. Experimental measurements showed a strong positive correlation between the interporosity of each medium and K. Across all media, the classic Kozeny-Carman (K-C) model predicted K and the relative change in K because of biochar amendment for each medium best. For soils alone, a recently developed model based on existing pedotransfer functions was optimal. The K-C model error was improved if the particle specific surface area was increased for large biochar particles, which indicates the importance of biochar particle shape on pore structure and K. X-ray Computed Tomography was coupled with pore network modeling to explain the unexpected decrease in K for sands amended with medium and large biochar. While biochar increased interporosity, mean pore radii decreased by ~25% which reduced K. The X-ray measurements and pore network modeling help to explain anomalous results reported for biochar-amended sands in other studies.

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Journal of environmental management

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