Special Issue "Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management"

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A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2012)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Bruno Glaser (Website)

Soil Biogeochemistry, Martin-Luther-University, Halle-Wittenberg, Von-Seckendorff-Platz 3, 06120 Halle/Saale, Germany

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Recently, biochar has been proposed as means of sequestering C as a stable form in soil. Suitability of biochar for C sequestration depends on the overall C balance of biochar after carbonization and its long-term stability in soils. Other observed yet poorly understood benefits of biochar application include decreases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase of nutrient and water retention, stabilization and destabilization of native soil organic matter, and decrease of bioavailability of organic/inorganic contaminants in soils. Biochar-induced immobilization of toxic metals in contaminated soils has recently received considerable attention. Despite these diverse benefits of biochar on a variety of soil properties, fundamental knowledge in soil-plant-water-biochar interactions is still lacking. Long-term ecological sustainability should be taken into account when applying biochar to soil for agriculture or remediation.

Prof. Dr. Bruno Glaser
Guest Editor

Keywords

  • biochar standardization/certification
  • land use impact
  • life cycle assessment
  • integration of scientific results
  • results of experimental studies

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle No Effect Level of Co-Composted Biochar on Plant Growth and Soil Properties in a Greenhouse Experiment
Agronomy 2014, 4(1), 34-51; doi:10.3390/agronomy4010034
Received: 10 October 2013 / Revised: 13 December 2013 / Accepted: 23 December 2013 / Published: 22 January 2014
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (1065 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
It is claimed that the addition of biochar to soil improves C sequestration, soil fertility and plant growth, especially when combined with organic fertilizers such as compost. However, little is known about agricultural effects of small amounts of composted biochar. This greenhouse [...] Read more.
It is claimed that the addition of biochar to soil improves C sequestration, soil fertility and plant growth, especially when combined with organic fertilizers such as compost. However, little is known about agricultural effects of small amounts of composted biochar. This greenhouse study was carried out to examine effects of co-composted biochar on oat (Avena sativa L.) yield in both sandy and loamy soil. The aim of this study was to test whether biochar effects can be observed at very low biochar concentrations. To test a variety of application amounts below 3 Mg biochar ha−1, we co-composted five different biochar concentrations (0, 3, 5, 10 kg Mg−1 compost). The biochar-containing compost was applied at five application rates (10, 50, 100, 150, 250 Mg ha−1 20 cm−1). Effects of compost addition on plant growth, Total Organic Carbon, Ntot, pH and soluble nutrients outweighed the effects of the minimal biochar amounts in the composted substrates so that a no effect level of biochar of at least 3 Mg ha−1 could be estimated. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
Open AccessArticle The Impact of Biochar Application on Soil Properties and Plant Growth of Pot Grown Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and Cabbage (Brassica chinensis)
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 404-418; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020404
Received: 18 February 2013 / Revised: 26 April 2013 / Accepted: 26 April 2013 / Published: 7 May 2013
Cited by 13 | PDF Full-text (294 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The effect of rice-husk char (potentially biochar) application on the growth of transplanted lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and Chinese cabbage (Brassica chinensis) was assessed in a pot experiment over a three crop (lettuce-cabbage-lettuce) cycle in Cambodia. The biochar was [...] Read more.
The effect of rice-husk char (potentially biochar) application on the growth of transplanted lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and Chinese cabbage (Brassica chinensis) was assessed in a pot experiment over a three crop (lettuce-cabbage-lettuce) cycle in Cambodia. The biochar was the by-product of a rice-husk gasification unit and consisted of 28.7% carbon (C) by mass. Biochar application rates to potting medium of 25, 50 and 150 g kg−1 were used with and without locally available fertilizers (a mixture of compost, liquid compost and lake sediment). The rice-husk biochar used was slightly alkaline (pH 7.79), increased the pH of the soil, and contained elevated levels of some trace metals and exchangeable cations (K, Ca and Mg) in comparison to the soil. The biochar treatments were found to increase the final biomass, root biomass, plant height and number of leaves in all the cropping cycles in comparison to no biochar treatments. The greatest biomass increase due to biochar additions (903%) was found in the soils without fertilization, rather than fertilized soils (483% with the same biochar application as in the “without fertilization” case). Over the cropping cycles the impact was reduced; a 363% increase in biomass was observed in the third lettuce cycle. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
Open AccessArticle Characterization and Mineralization Rates of Low Temperature Peanut Hull and Pine Chip Biochars
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 294-312; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020294
Received: 30 November 2012 / Revised: 23 January 2013 / Accepted: 7 April 2013 / Published: 16 April 2013
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (620 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Biochar can potentially increase soil fertility and sequester carbon by incorporating nutrients and stable black carbon into the soil; however its effect on soil nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) processes is not well understood. A defined methodology to characterize biochar is necessary [...] Read more.
Biochar can potentially increase soil fertility and sequester carbon by incorporating nutrients and stable black carbon into the soil; however its effect on soil nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) processes is not well understood. A defined methodology to characterize biochar is necessary to predict how specific biochars will affect C and N mineralization. We amended a Tifton soil (Fine-loamy, siliceous, thermic Plinthic Kandiudults) with peanut hull (Arachis hypogaea; PH; 2.1% N) and pine chip (Pinus taeda; PC: 0.4% N) biochar at application rates of 1% and 2% (w/w) and performed a 136-day mineralization study. A companion 24-day mineralization study amended Tifton soil with PH and PC biochar at 2% and their respective feedstocks at equal C rates. Soil C mineralization rates were monitored periodically throughout each study and total N mineralization rates were also measured. In addition, we characterized each biochar using thermogravimetric analysis with mass spectrometer (TGA-MS), proximate analysis, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and total mineral analysis to identify biochar characteristics that might correlate with mineralization properties. Limited C (<2%) mineralized from both biochars, but mineralization rates of soil amended with PH biochar were higher than PC biochar. Carbon mineralization correlated well with estimated aliphatic content determined by TGA-MS but not with volatile content indicated by proximate analysis. Nitrogen was not mineralized from either biochar, indicating that plant-based biochar should not be considered a source of N for plant growth. The N in biochar may be contained in the stable aromatic structure of the biochar, as indicated by TGA-MS, and not available to soil microbes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
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Open AccessArticle Biochar Effect on Maize Yield and Soil Characteristics in Five Conservation Farming Sites in Zambia
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 256-274; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020256
Received: 29 December 2012 / Revised: 1 March 2013 / Accepted: 7 April 2013 / Published: 11 April 2013
Cited by 32 | PDF Full-text (482 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Biochar addition to agricultural soils can improve soil fertility, with the added bonus of climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration. Conservation farming (CF) is precision farming, often combining minimum tillage, crop rotation and residue retention. In the present farmer-led field trials carried [...] Read more.
Biochar addition to agricultural soils can improve soil fertility, with the added bonus of climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration. Conservation farming (CF) is precision farming, often combining minimum tillage, crop rotation and residue retention. In the present farmer-led field trials carried out in Zambia, the use of a low dosage biochar combined with CF minimum tillage was tested as a way to increase crop yields. Using CF minimum tillage allows the biochar to be applied to the area where most of the plant roots are present and mirrors the fertilizer application in CF practices. The CF practice used comprised manually hoe-dug planting 10-L sized basins, where 10%–12% of the land was tilled. Pilot trials were performed with maize cob biochar and wood biochar on five soils with variable physical/chemical characteristics. At a dosage as low as 4 tons/ha, both biochars had a strong positive effect on maize yields in the coarse white aeolian sand of Kaoma, West-Zambia, with yields of 444% ± 114% (p = 0.06) and 352% ± 139% (p = 0.1) of the fertilized reference plots for maize and wood biochar, respectively. Thus for sandy acidic soils, CF and biochar amendment can be a promising combination for increasing harvest yield. Moderate but non-significant effects on yields were observed for maize and wood biochar in a red sandy clay loam ultisol east of Lusaka, central Zambia (University of Zambia, UNZA, site) with growth of 142% ± 42% (p > 0.2) and 131% ± 62% (p > 0.2) of fertilized reference plots, respectively. For three other soils (acidic and neutral clay loams and silty clay with variable cation exchange capacity, CEC), no significant effects on maize yields were observed (p > 0.2). In laboratory trials, 5% of the two biochars were added to the soil samples in order to study the effect of the biochar on physical and chemical soil characteristics. The large increase in crop yield in Kaoma soil was tentatively explained by a combination of an increased base saturation (from <50% to 60%–100%) and cation exchange capacity (CEC; from 2–3 to 5–9 cmol/kg) and increased plant-available water (from 17% to 21%) as well as water vapor uptake (70 mg/g on maize cob biochar at 50% relative humidity). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)

Review

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Open AccessReview The Application of Biochar in the EU: Challenges and Opportunities
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 462-473; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020462
Received: 10 January 2013 / Revised: 7 May 2013 / Accepted: 8 May 2013 / Published: 22 May 2013
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (319 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Biochar application to agricultural soils is an interesting emerging technology with promising potential for long-term carbon storage, sustainable waste disposal, and soil fertility enhancement. Extensive information exists in the literature on the highly beneficial properties of biochar. Nevertheless, systematic application of biochar [...] Read more.
Biochar application to agricultural soils is an interesting emerging technology with promising potential for long-term carbon storage, sustainable waste disposal, and soil fertility enhancement. Extensive information exists in the literature on the highly beneficial properties of biochar. Nevertheless, systematic application of biochar on European agricultural soils may have wide ranging policy implications as well as environmental and public health concerns. In this paper we critically review existing scientific evidence from a European policy perspective and identify research gaps for future comprehensive assessments of the policy, environmental, economic, and health implications of the systematic use of biochar in European agricultural soils. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
Open AccessReview Impact of Biochar on Organic Contaminants in Soil: A Tool for Mitigating Risk?
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 349-375; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020349
Received: 30 November 2012 / Revised: 20 January 2013 / Accepted: 7 April 2013 / Published: 23 April 2013
Cited by 10 | PDF Full-text (312 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The presence of biochar in soils through natural processes (forest fires, bush burning) or through application to soil (agriculture, carbon storage, remediation, waste management) has received a significant amount of scientific and regulatory attention. Biochar alters soil properties, encourages microbial activity and [...] Read more.
The presence of biochar in soils through natural processes (forest fires, bush burning) or through application to soil (agriculture, carbon storage, remediation, waste management) has received a significant amount of scientific and regulatory attention. Biochar alters soil properties, encourages microbial activity and enhances sorption of inorganic and organic compounds, but this strongly depends on the feedstock and production process of biochar. This review considers biochar sources, the production process and result of pyrolysis, interactions of biochar with soil, and associated biota. Furthermore, the paper focuses on the interactions between biochar and common anthropogenic organic contaminants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, and dioxins, which are often deposited in the soil environment. It then considers the feasibility of applying biochar in remediation technologies in addition to other perspective areas yet to be explored. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
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Open AccessReview Biochar Impacts on Soil Physical Properties and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 313-339; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020313
Received: 3 December 2012 / Revised: 25 February 2013 / Accepted: 7 April 2013 / Published: 18 April 2013
Cited by 43 | PDF Full-text (306 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Biochar, a co-product of a controlled pyrolysis process, can be used as a tool for sequestering C in soil to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and as a soil amendment. Whereas the impacts of biochar application on soil chemical properties are widely [...] Read more.
Biochar, a co-product of a controlled pyrolysis process, can be used as a tool for sequestering C in soil to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and as a soil amendment. Whereas the impacts of biochar application on soil chemical properties are widely known, the research information on soil physical properties is scarce. The objectives of this review are to (i) synthesize available data on soil physical properties and GHG emissions, (ii) offer possible mechanisms related to the biochar-amended soil processes, and (iii) identify researchable priorities. Application rates of 1%–2% (w/w) of biochar can significantly improve soil physical quality in terms of bulk density (BD), and water holding capacity (WHC). However, little data are available on surface area (SA), aggregation stability, and penetration resistance (PR) of biochar-amended soil. While biochar amendment can initially accentuate the flux of carbon dioxide (CO2), the emission of GHGs may be suppressed over time. A 2-phase complexation hypothesis is proposed regarding the mechanisms of the interaction between soil and biochar. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)
Open AccessReview A Review of Biochar and Soil Nitrogen Dynamics
Agronomy 2013, 3(2), 275-293; doi:10.3390/agronomy3020275
Received: 1 February 2013 / Revised: 8 April 2013 / Accepted: 8 April 2013 / Published: 16 April 2013
Cited by 91 | PDF Full-text (219 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Interest in biochar stems from its potential agronomic benefits and carbon sequestration ability. Biochar application alters soil nitrogen (N) dynamics. This review establishes emerging trends and gaps in biochar-N research. Biochar adsorption of NO3, up to 0.6 mg g [...] Read more.
Interest in biochar stems from its potential agronomic benefits and carbon sequestration ability. Biochar application alters soil nitrogen (N) dynamics. This review establishes emerging trends and gaps in biochar-N research. Biochar adsorption of NO3, up to 0.6 mg g−1 biochar, occurs at pyrolysis temperatures >600 °C with amounts adsorbed dependent on feedstock and NO3 concentration. Biochar NH4+ adsorption depends on feedstock, but no pyrolysis temperature trend is apparent. Long-term practical effectiveness of inorganic-N adsorption, as a NO3 leaching mitigation option, requires further study. Biochar adsorption of ammonia (NH3) decreases NH3 and NO3 losses during composting and after manure applications, and offers a mechanism for developing slow release fertilisers. Reductions in NH3 loss vary with N source and biochar characteristics. Manure derived biochars have a role as N fertilizers. Increasing pyrolysis temperatures, during biochar manufacture from manures and biosolids, results in biochars with decreasing hydrolysable organic N and increasing aromatic and heterocyclic structures. The short- and long-term implications of biochar on N immobilisation and mineralization are specific to individual soil-biochar combinations and further systematic studies are required to predict agronomic and N cycling responses. Most nitrous oxide (N2O) studies measuring nitrous oxide (N2O) were short-term in nature and found emission reductions, but long-term studies are lacking, as is mechanistic understanding of reductions. Stable N isotopes have a role in elucidating biochar-N-soil dynamics. There remains a dearth of information regarding effects of biochar and soil biota on N cycling. Biochar has potential within agroecosystems to be an N input, and a mitigation agent for environmentally detrimental N losses. Future research needs to systematically understand biochar-N interactions over the long term. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biochar as Option for Sustainable Resource Management)

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