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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: INCREASING SUSTAINABILITY AND MITIGATING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS OF FOOD AND BIOFUEL PRODUCTION SYSTEMS OF THE UPPER MIDWEST U.S.

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: Composting of biochars improves their sorption properties, retains nutrients during composting and affects greenhouse gas emissions after soil application

Authors
item Borchard, Nils -
item Prost, Katharina -
item Spokas, Kurt
item Kautz, Timo -
item Moller, Andreas -
item Siemens, Jan -

Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: June 1, 2012
Publication Date: N/A

Technical Abstract: Biochar application to soils has been suggested to elevate nutrient sorption, improve soil fertility and reduce net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We examined the impact of composting biochar together with a biologically active substrate (i.e., livestock manure-straw mixture). We hypothesized that composting would alter the biochar’s surface chemistry, sorb nutrients from the compost, and impact the resulting GHG production after its application to soil. We studied the sorption of copper (Cu (II)) to two biochars (a charcoal and a gasification coke, both derived from wood) in order to relate sorption to char properties before and after a composting period of 84 days. Furthermore, we quantified changes in nutrient contents after 175 days of composting and the resulting net GHG production of soil-biochar mixtures in incubation experiments. Composting increased the biochar´s sorption affinity as well as its capacity for Cu(II)+2. Differences in the strength of sorption were observed between the two biochars: Cu+2 sorption to gasification coke was largely irreversible, whereas sorption to charcoal showed higher reversibility. During composting the biochars sorbed significant amounts of organic matter and nutrients. We also observed elevated amounts of soluble nitrogen (inorganic and organic), soluble organic carbon, plant available phosphorus and plant available potassium for bothtypes of biochar following composting. Soils incubated together with composted biochar showed: i) reduced net methane oxidation, ii) no effects on CO2 emissions, and iii) increased nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. We could not detect any changes in the aromatic character of the initial compared to the composted biochar using benzene polycarboxylic acids (BPCA) as molecular markers. Composted biochar can be utilized as a remediation tool to reduce toxic Cu(II) concentrations in contaminated soils. The strength of Cu(II) sorption will depend on the particular biochar’s properties. Furthermore, using biochar as a bulking agent for composting could reduce the leaching of organic matter and nutrients, as these components are sorbed to the biochar in a plant available form. Composting of biochar could therefore improve its properties as a soil fertilizer and conditioner. However soils treated with composted biochars revealed, as a consequence of a higher N availability, increased N2O emissions. This connection may have an adverse effect on an overall GHG balance.

Last Modified: 12/21/2014