Mitigating environmental contamination with BIOCHAR

One of Langara College’s most successful and long-standing applied research projects is the Biochar project. The project explores the science behind the production and use of the Biochar, a form of charcoal produced from locally sourced biological material such as wood chips or marijuana stalks. Biochar has been shown to have soil benefits and may be a valuable amendment for agriculture or forestry applications. It can be used as a renewable solid fuel and is being explored for wastewater remediation applications.


Initiated in September 2011 at Langara College by chemistry instructor Kelly Sveinson, the biochar applied research program used the College’s experimental biochar reactor to convert a variety of biomass wastes into biochar in a low oxygen atmosphere. The project was driven by industry need, ensuring the work had direct relevance to industrial applications. Students had the opportunity to work with different companies to explore different biochar sources and investigate their capacity in several different research applications.

One industrial collaboration involved McCue Engineering Contractors, a Vancouver-based environmental remediation company that was interested in exploring the capacity of biochar to remove metals from industrial wastewater.

Students tested the process using different materials, different process conditions and different wastewater contaminants and demonstrated that in some instances, the modified biochar has the capacity to absorb 90% of metal ions from the water. They found that marijuana stalks, which do not have any efficacious pharmaceutical properties but are a significant byproduct of the medicinal marijuana industry, have a greater ability to remove metal from wastewater than woody fibre.