St. Thomas University’s science students have been grilling every day this summer, but it’s not steak and burgers they were serving. They were grilling with a purpose.
During this year’s Summer Research Institute, a program now in its seventh year, STU students explored how to turn organic trash (leftover sugar cane, tree branches, coconut husks, wood, etc.) into a water purifying treasure called biochar. Biochar is a solid, charcoal-like material formed by heating biomass (the organic trash mentioned above) via a process known as pyrolysis, a slow burning process deficient of oxygen.
Students were making biochar outside next to the science building. The process involves heating biomass encased in metal containers on barbecue grills. Biochar is very porous, and as a result, can be used to filter contaminants like antibiotics, pesticide and hormones from drinking water.
“We’re basically researching how biochar made from different organic material can be used to eliminate toxins such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, cleaning chemicals, etc., from water,” said STU volleyball player Courtney White, a senior majoring in biology.
Biochar Fun Fact: When applied to soil biochar boosts fertility by boosting water retention in the soil when it is dry, and promoting drainage when conditions are wet. It also helps capture greenhouse and odorous gases such as carbon dioxide and ammonia!