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Sci Total Environ. 2019 Apr 20;662:501-510. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.137. Epub 2019 Jan 15.

Humic substances developed during organic waste composting: Formation mechanisms, structural properties, and agronomic functions.

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Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China; College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.
Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China. Electronic address:
Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Høegh-Guldbergs Gade 6B, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.


Aerobic composting is a typical biochemical process of stabilization and harmlessness of organic wastes during which organic matter degrades, and then aggregates, to produce humic substances (HSs). HSs are a core product of-and a crucial indicator of-the maturation of compost that can be used in soil amendments. The formation of HSs is affected by the characteristics of the raw materials involved, the presence of compost additives, microbial activity, temperature, pH, the C/N ratio, moisture content, oxygen content and particle size, all of which can interact with each other. The formation of HSs is therefore complex. Moreover, it is difficult to identify definitive structures of humic acids (HAs) and fulvic acids (FAs), which are the two major components of HSs. However, HSs represent the same functional groups and structural arrangements, which helps to predict their structures. Functional groups represented by phenol and carboxylic acid groups of HAs and FAs can provide various agronomic functions, such as plant growth enhancement, water and nutrient retention, and disease suppression capacity. Overall, HSs can act as a soil amendment, fertilizer, and plant growth regulator. These functions of HSs enhance the reuse potential of organic waste compost products; however, this requires scientific control of various composting parameters and appropriate application of final products.


Aerobic composting; Agricultural application; Formation mechanism; Humic substances; Microbial activity

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