Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

First Advisor

Zhengrong Gu


activated carbon, adsorption, butanol, creatinine, modification, separation


Butanol is considered a promising, infrastructure-compatible biofuel. Butanol has a higher energy content than ethanol and can be used in conventional gas engines without modifications. Unfortunately, the fermentation pathway for butanol production is restricted by its toxicity to the microbial strains used in the process. Butanol is toxic to the microbes, and this can slow fermentation rates and reduce butanol yields. Gas stripping technology can efficiently remove butanol from the fermentation broth as it is produced, thereby decreasing its inhibitory effects. Traditional butanol separation heavily depends on the energy intensive distillation method. One of the main issues in acetone-butanol-ethanol fermentation is that butanol concentrations in the fermentation broth are low, ranging from 1 to 1.2 percent in weight, because of its toxicity to the microorganisms. Therefore distillation of butanol is even worse than distillation of corn ethanol. Even new separation methods, such as solidextraction methods involve adding substances, such as polymer resin and zeolite or activated carbon, to biobutanol fermentatioon broth did not achieve energy efficient separation of butanol due to low adsorption selectivity and fouling in broth. Gas-stripping - condensation is another new butanol recovery method, however, the butanol in gasstripping stream is too low to be condensed without using expensive and energy intensive liquid nitrogen. Adsorption can then be used to recover butanol from the vapor phase. Activated carbon (AC) samples and zeolite were investigated for their butanol vapor adsorption capacities. Commercial activated carbon was modified via hydrothermalH2O2treatment, and the specific surface area and oxygen-containing functional groups of activated carbon were tested before and after treatment. Hydrothermal H2O2 modification increased the surface oxygen content, Brunauer-Emmett-Teller surface area, micropore volume, and total pore volume of active carbon. The adsorption capacities of these active carbon samples were almost three times that of zeolite. However, the un-modified active carbon had the highest adsorption capacity for butanol vapor (259.6 mg g-1), compared to 222.4 mg g-1 after 10% H2O2 hydrothermal treatment. Both modified and un-modified active carbon can be easily regenerated for repeatable adsorption by heating to 150. Therefore, surface oxygen groups significantly reduced the adsorption capacity of active carbons for butanol vapor. In addition, original active carbon and AC samples modified by nitric acid hydrothermal modification were assessed for their ability to adsorb butanol vapor. The specific surface area and oxygen-containing functional groups of AC were tested before and after modification. The adsorption capacity of unmodified AC samples were the highest. Hydrothermal oxidation of AC with HNO3 increased the surface oxygen content, Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) surface area, micropore, mesopore and total pore volume of AC. Although the pore structure and specific surface area were greatly improved after hydrothermal oxidization with 4 M HNO3, the increased oxygen on the surface of AC decreased the dynamic adsorption capacity. In order to get high adsorption capacity adsorbents, we used corn stalk as precursor to fabricate porous carbon. ACs were prepared through chemical activation of biochar from whole corn stalk (WCS) and corn stalk pith (CSP) at varying temperatures using potassium hydroxide as the activating agent. ACs were characterized via pore structural analysis and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). These adsorbents were then assessed for their adsorption capacity for butanol vapor. It was found that WCS activated at 900 °C for 1 h (WCS-900) had optimal butanol adsorption characteristics. The BET surface area and total pore volume of the WCS-900 were 2330 m2 g-1 and 1.29 cm3 g-1, respectively. The dynamic adsorption capacity of butanol vapor was 410.0 mg g-1, a 185.1 % increase compared to charcoal-based commercial AC (143.8 mg g-1). Based on the adsorption experiments of butanol vapor, we found the chemical properties of the AC surface play an important role in adsorbing molecules. The adsorption of creatinine on active carbons was also studied, which is a toxic compound generated by human. High levels of creatinine in the blood stream is normally caused by malfunction or failure of the kidneys. Activated carbons is taken by the patients orally to reduce creatinine level. In order to figure out whether chemical modification could increase the adsorption capacity of creatinine, AC samples modified by nitric acid hydrothermal modification were assessed for their ability to adsorb creatinine. The pore structure and surface properties of the AC samples were characterized by N2 adsorption, temperature programmed desorption (TPD), Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Xray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS). It indicated that 4M HNO3 hydrothermal modification with 180 °C was an efficient method in improvement of the creatinine adsorption. The improved adsorption capacity can be attributed mainly to an increase in the acidic oxygen-containing functional groups. The adsorption of creatinine over AC may involve an interaction with the acidic oxygen-containing groups on AC. Langmuir and Freundlich adsorption models were applied to describe the experimental isotherm and isotherm constants. Equilibrium data fitted very well to the Freundlich model in the entire saturation range (3.58-59.08 mg L-1). The maximum adsorption capacities of AC modified with 180 °C is 62.5 mg g-1 according to the Langmuir model. Pseudo first-order and second-order kinetic models were used to describe the kinetic data and the rate constants were evaluated. The experimental data fitted well to the second-order kinetic model, which indicates that the chemical adsorption was the rate-limiting step, instead of mass transfer.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 126-138)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © Yuhe Cao