Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry & Biochemistry



Committee Director

James W. Lee

Committee Member

Sandeep Kumar

Committee Member

Jingdong Mao

Committee Member

John Cooper


Cation exchange, a cornerstone of soil chemistry and nutrient cycling, is a fundamental chemical process that occurs in soils, sediments, membranes, and other solid materials. It involves the interchange of positively charged ions, or cations, between a solid matrix and a surrounding solution. This process is crucial in various natural and engineered systems, leading to a range of applications across different fields.

This dissertation presents an extensive investigation into the applications of cation exchange in the fields of biochar and bioenergetics, encompassing three distinct aims. The first aim concentrates on the surface oxygenation of biochar through ozonization, aiming to achieve an exceptional cation exchange capacity. This innovative approach seeks to transform biochar into a humic like material through controlled ozonization, promising implications for soil fertility enhancement and nutrient management. This was accomplished by treating the biochar with ozone for 90 minutes in an enclosed vessel. The initial CEC value of untreated biochar ranged between 14 and 17 cmol/kg. However, ozone treatment led to a remarkable increase in CEC, with values ranging from 109 to 152 cmol/kg. The ozonization process also induced a significant reduction in biochar pH, from 9.82 to as low as 3.07, indicating the formation of oxygen-functional groups, particularly carboxylic acids, on the biochar's surface.

In the second research aim, the focus shifts to the solubilization of phosphorus from soil utilizing ozonized biochar. This strategy explores the potential of ozonized biochar to enhance phosphorus availability while minimizing phytotoxicity. By coupling the findings from first aim with the outcomes of this aim, a comprehensive approach to sustainable phosphorus management in agriculture is explored, contributing to the development of eco-friendly fertilization practices.

The final aim introduces a paradigm shift by demonstration of a protonic capacitor and investigation of cation-proton exchange with transmembrane-electrostatically localized protons (TELP) at a liquid-membrane interface. Understanding the complexities of cation-proton exchange could potentially revolutionize bioenergetic mechanisms, particularly in microbial systems. This pioneering endeavor not only provides fundamental insights into cation exchange processes but also offers a bridge to the field of bioenergetics.


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