Experimental and DFT investigation on N-functionalized biochars for enhanced removal of Cr(VI)

Nan Zhao, Chuanfang Zhao, Kunyuan Liu, Weihua Zhang, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Zaikuan Yang, Xixiang Yang, Bofang Yan, Jean Louis Morel, Rongliang Qiu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


In this study, N-functionalized biochars with varied structural characteristics were designed by loading poplar leaf with different amounts of urea at 1:1 and 1:3 ratios through pyrolysis method. The addition of urea significantly increased the N content of biochar and facilitated the formation of amine (-NH-, -NH2), imine (-HC[dbnd]NH), benzimidazole (-C7H5N2), imidazole (-C3H3N2), and pyrimidine (-C4H3N2) groups due to substitution reaction and Maillard reaction. The effect of pH on Cr(VI) removal suggested that decrease in solution pH favored the formation of electrostatic attraction between the protonated functional groups and HCrO4. And, experimental and density functional theory study were used to probe adsorption behaviors and adsorption mechanism which N-functionalized biochars interacted with Cr(VI). The protonation energy calculations indicated that N atoms in newly formed N-containing groups were better proton acceptors. Adsorption kinetics and isotherm experiments exhibited that N-functionalized biochars had greater removal rate and removal capacity for Cr(VI). The removal rate of Cr(VI) on N-functionalized biochar was 10.5–15.5 times that of untreated biochar. Meanwhile, N-functionalized biochar of NB3 with the largest number of adsorption sites for -C7H5N2, -NH2, -OH, -C3H3N2, and phthalic acid (-C8H5O4) exhibited the supreme adsorption capacity for Cr(VI) through H bonds and the highest adsorption energy was −5.01 kcal/mol. These mechanistic findings on the protonation and adsorption capacity are useful for better understanding the functions of N-functionalized biochars, thereby providing a guide for their use in various environmental applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118244
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2021


  • Adsorption energy
  • Cr(VI) removal
  • Nitrogen-functionalized biochar
  • Protonation energy
  • Protonation site prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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