Abstract: Biochar produced by thermal decomposition of biomass under oxygen-limited conditions has received increasing attention as a cost-effective sorbent to treat metal-contaminated waters. However, there is a lack of information on the roles of different sorption mechanisms for different metals and recent development of biochar modification to enhance metal sorption capacity, which is critical for biochar field application. This review summarizes the characteristics of biochar (e.g., surface area, porosity, pH, surface charge, functional groups, and mineral components) and main mechanisms governing sorption of As, Cr, Cd, Pb, and Hg by biochar. Biochar properties vary considerably with feedstock material and pyrolysis temperature, with high temperature producing biochars with higher surface area, porosity, pH, and mineral contents, but less functional groups. Different mechanisms dominate sorption of As (complexation and electrostatic interactions), Cr (electrostatic interactions, reduction, and complexation), Cd and Pb (complexation, cation exchange, and precipitation), and Hg (complexation and reduction). Besides sorption mechanisms, recent advance in modifying biochar by loading with minerals, reductants, organic functional groups, and nanoparticles, and activation with alkali solution to enhance metal sorption capacity is discussed. Future research needs for field application of biochar include competitive sorption mechanisms of co-existing metals, biochar reuse, and cost reduction of biochar production.
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