Charcoal / Biochar Water Treatment Systems


Web Resources

Biochar Water Filter Design Calculator (graphical method)

Biochar Adsorption Reference Database


Video Resources

Informational Video

Aqueous Solutions: a short introduction ::: What Aqueous is all about, in 7 minutes and 40 seconds.

Instructional Videos

Self-Reliant Water Treatment in 5 minutes and 12 seconds (Thai language, English subtitles) ::: A humorous short video with narration and animation describing the water treatment system at Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance (northern Thailand).

Biochar for control of trace contaminants in water ::: An English language video of our presentation to the 2014 ECHO International Agriculture Conference. An outline of the challenge that toxic synthetic chemicals pose to drinking water safety in developing communities, along with an overview of our laboratory research and field initiatives developing affordable treatment systems built using local materials and incorporation biochar adsorbent. Ends with a brief cost-comparison to other common point-of-use (POU) treatment technologies.

Making gasifier biochar for decentralized water treatment ::: An English language video explaining the theory of biomass gasification and step-by-step instructions for fabricating and operating a 200 L (55-gal) drum gasifier.

Gasifier charcoal (biochar) oven (Thai language) ::: Theory and practical instructions for making gasifier char, by Jon Jandai of Pun Pun Farm (Thailand).

Making Gasifier Char with Jon Jandai ::: An artistic, short and funny rendition, in Thai language with English subtitles.

Biochar Water Treatment Seminar @ CU-Boulder (June 2012) ::: Video lecture and slideshow detailing laboratory research and field projects (SE Asia) developing biochar filter systems for decentralized water treatment in developing communities.

Print Resources

Shimabuku KK, Kearns JP, Martinez J, Mahoney RB, Moreno-Vasquez L, Summers RS. (2016) Biochar sorbents for sulfamethoxazole removal from surface water, stormwater, and wastewater effluent. Water Research, Vol. 96, pp. 236-245.

Kearns JP, Shimabuku KK, Mahoney RB, Knappe DRU, Summer RS. (2015) Meeting multiple water quality objectives through treatment using locally generated char: improving organoleptic properties and removing synthetic organic contaminants and disinfection by-products. Journal of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene for Development, Vol. 5, Is. 3, pp. 359-372.

Kearns JP, Reents N, Knappe DRU, Summers RS. (2015) Removing toxic chemicals from drinking water using biochar. Poster presented at North Carolina State University Water Resources and Environmental Engineering Symposium, March 2015.

Kearns JP. (2014) Removing toxic chemicals from drinking water using biochar. Slides presented at the ECHO International Agriculture Conference, November 2014.

Kearns JP, Shimabuku KK, Mahoney RB, Reents NW, Summers RS, Knappe DRU. (2014) Trace organic contaminant removal from drinking water using local char; or…Toxic organic chemical contaminants: the biggest problem you’re completely unaware of. Slides presented at the University of North Carolina Water & Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, October 2014.

Kearns JP, Anh MTL, Reents NW, Shimabuku KK, Mahoney RB, Summers RS, Knappe DRU. (2014) Trace organic contaminant removal from drinking water using local char. Briefing paper presentation to the 37th WEDC (Water, Engineering and Development Centre) International Conference, Hanoi, Vietnam, September 2014.

Kearns JP, Knappe DRU, Summers RS. (2014) Synthetic organic water contaminants in developing communities: an overlooked challenge addressed by adsorption with locally generated char. Journal of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene for Development, Vol. 4, Is. 3, pp. 422-436.

Kearns JP, Wellborn LS, Summers RS, Knappe DRU. (2014) 2,4-D adsorption to biochars: effect of preparation conditions on equilibrium adsorption capacity and comparison with commercial activated carbon literature data. Water Research, Vol. 62, pp. 20-28.

Sustainable decentralized water treatment for rural and developing communities using locally generated biochar adsorbents. Water Conditioning & Purification International, October 2012.


Downloadable Handbooks

| | | New for 2016! | | |

Graphical How-To Manuals For Low Cost Water Treatment With Biochar


300 Liter per day (“blue barrel”) Water Treatment System Graphical Manual (high res pdf, 30 MB) ::: This handbook is formatted for “borderless” printing on A4 paper for easy and inexpensive binding. (Low res pdf, 1.6 MB)

::: 300 L/d Treatment System Manual Burmese Language

::: 300 L/d Treatment System Manual Thai Language

::: 300 L/d Treatment System Manual Sinhala Language

::: 300 L/d Treatment System Manual Lao Language

More treatment system designs and languages coming soon – please check back!


Older Handbooks and How-To Manuals

Sustainable Decentralized Water Treatment for Rural and Developing Communities Using Gasifier Biochar (high res pdf, 12 MB) ::: Version 1.0 of our flagship Handbook that (1) summarizes preliminary results of collaborative field and laboratory research pertaining to the use of traditional kiln charcoals and gasifier chars in decentralized water treatment that targets SOCs, (2) provides a detailed how-to guide for construction and operation of an intermediate scale (200 L) gasifier char production unit using local materials, and (3) provides a detailed how-to guide for integration of biochar filtration into a multi-barrier intermediate-scale (2000 L/day) water treatment system constructed from inexpensive and widely available materials. [Click here for a low res (1.5 MB) version for slower connections.]


Fabricating a 200 L Biomass Gasifier for Making Enhanced Water Filter Biochar ::: The basics of biomass gasification: a low-cost, user-friendly and environmentally sustainable method for making good water filter char from agricultural and forestry residues.

::: Gasifier Handbook, Thai Language

::: Gasifier Handbook, Burmese Language

::: Gasifier Handbook, Spanish Language

::: Gasifier Handbook, Karen Language


JRO (“Jolly Roger Oven”) Gasifier and Retort Char System ::: A modified basic gasifier unit that uses the waste heat given off from making water filter char to produce a bonus batch of cooking fuel charcoal.

::: JRO Handbook, Thai Language

::: JRO Handbook, Burmese Language

::: JRO Handbook, Spanish Language

::: JRO Handbook, Karen Language


E-Z Adsorption Char Drum Oven ::: A mostly graphical (minimal text) handbook for constructing a drum pyrolyzer using inexpensive and commonly available materials, and using only simple hand tools – no need for electricity.


Constructing a Multi-Barrier Water Treatment System Using Local Materials ::: The basics of water treatment and targeted approaches for removing both biological and chemical threats to drinking water quality. Detailed instructions for building a 2000 L/day community water system incorporating biologically active sand and (bio-)char filtration.

::: Water Treatment System Handbook, Thai Language

::: Water Treatment System Handbook, Burmese Language

::: Water Treatment System Handbook, Spanish Language

::: Water Treatment System Handbook, Karen Language


Constructing a Portable Drinking Water Treatment Plant ::: A detailed guide for setting up a 300 L/day small drinking water treatment plant from inexpensive materials that can be carried on foot into remote locations and installed with filter media acquired/generated on-site.

::: Portable Water Treatment Plant, Thai Language

::: Portable Water Treatment Plant, Burmese Language

::: Portable Water Treatment Plant, Spanish Language

::: Portable Water Treatment Plant, Karen Language


Other translations also coming soon – please check back!


Project Summary

Contamination of drinking water sources by synthetic organic compounds (SOCs – e.g. pesticides, pharmaceuticals, fuel compounds, etc.) is a growing worldwide problem. Many of these chemicals bio-accumulate in the human body and cause cancer, birth defects and diseases of the reproductive system, and disrupt endocrine and neurological systems. However, few low-cost, sustainable and appropriate treatment technologies are available to rural and developing communities for SOC removal. Moreover, SOCs are rarely or not-at-all addressed in the majority of safe drinking water programs implemented by major international development NGOs and government agencies, university research programs, philanthropic organizations, non-profits, faith-based charities, etc.

In advanced centralized water treatment systems, adsorption by activated carbon (AC) is considered the best available technology for the removal of SOCs. However, the manufacture of AC is a sophisticated (and often proprietary) industrial process and cannot be replicated at the location and scale of rural and developing communities. Under these circumstances, charcoals produced by traditional kiln systems may serve as an effective, low-cost local surrogate for commercial AC as they exhibit similar molecular-scale properties (e.g. porosity and internal surface area, surface reactive sites). In fact, water filtration using charcoal is an ancient practice that continues today in non-industrialized regions around the world, though it has not yet been rigorously demonstrated for removal of modern industrial pollutants.

Unfortunately, charcoal production by traditional kiln systems is often a resource-intensive and highly polluting process. Moreover, traditional charcoals are manufactured primarily as fuel for cooking and heating; kiln processes are typically not optimized for production of water filter char. Low cost, energy efficient, environmentally sustainable and scalable local production of optimal water filter char can be accomplished with biomass gasification. Char-producing gasifier stoves are rapidly being disseminated for household cooking and heating as they provide energy efficient combustion with reduced emissions. Intermediate- and large-scale gasifier systems are being deployed around the world for generation of “biochar” as an agricultural soil amendment to increase crop yields and sequester carbon.

The video and print resources available here are intended to

(1) summarize current results of collaborative field and laboratory research pertaining to the use of traditional kiln charcoals and gasifier chars in decentralized water treatment that targets SOCs,

(2) provide instructional materials for construction and operation of small- and intermediate- scale gasifier char production units using local materials, and

(3) provide instructional materials for integration of (bio-)char filtration into a multi-barrier small- and intermediate- scale water treatment systems constructed from inexpensive and widely available materials.

The information and design specifications presented here are open source / open architecture. We invite critical feedback from field engineers and WASH (water-sanitation-hygiene) sector development practitioners, university researchers, sustainable development NGOs, etc.


Please contact Josh Kearns – josh [at] aqsolutions [dot] org – for more information.