This paper presents an in-depth characterization of a raw industrial sludge (IS-R) and its KOH-activated biochar pyrolyzed at 750 °C (IS-KOH-B) followed by their application to remove a cationic dye from aqueous solution. Materials characterization shows that compared to the IS-R, the IS-KOH-B has improved structural, textural, and surface chemical properties. In particular, the IS-KOH-B’s BET surface area and total pore volume are about 78 and 6 times higher than those found for the IS-R, respectively. The activated biochar efficiently retained the cationic dye under wide experimental conditions. Indeed, for an initial dye concentration of 50 mg L−1, removal yields were assessed to be more than 92.5%, 93.5%, and 97.8% for a large pH range (4–10), in the presence of high contents of competing cations (3000 mg L−1 of Ca2+, Mg2+, Na+, and K+), and a low used adsorbent dose (1 g L−1), respectively. The Langmuir’s adsorption capacities were 48.5 and 65.9 mg g−1 for of IS-R and IS-KOH-B, respectively, which are higher than those reported for various adsorbents in the literature. The dye removal was found to be monolayer, spontaneous, and endothermic for both the adsorbents. Moreover, this removal process seems to be controlled by chemical reactions for IS-KOH-B whereas by both physico–chemical reactions for IS-R. This study demonstrates that the raw industrial sludge and especially its KOH-activated derived biochar could be considered as promising adsorbents for the removal of dyes from aqueous solutions.
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