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Sci Total Environ. 2019 Nov 10;690:1228-1236. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.07.116. Epub 2019 Jul 8.

Biochar incorporation increased nitrogen and carbon retention in a waste-derived soil.

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Biogeochemistry Research Centre, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK. Electronic address:
Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall PL24 2SG, UK.
Biogeochemistry Research Centre, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK.
Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK.


The synthesis of manufactured soils converts waste materials to value-added products, alleviating pressures on both waste disposal infrastructure and topsoils. For manufactured soils to be effective media for plant growth, they must retain and store plant-available nutrients, including nitrogen. In this study, biochar applications were tested for their ability to retain nitrogen in a soil manufactured from waste materials. A biochar, produced from horticultural green waste, was added to a manufactured soil at 2, 5 and 10 % (by weight), then maintained at 15 °C and irrigated with water (0.84 mL m-2 d-1) over 6 weeks. Total dissolved nitrogen concentrations in soil leachate decreased by 25.2, 30.6 and 44.0 % at biochar concentrations of 2, 5 and 10 %, respectively. Biochar also changed the proportions of each nitrogen-fraction in collected samples. Three mechanisms for biochar-induced nitrogen retention were possible: i) increased cation and anion exchange capacity of the substrate; ii) retention of molecules within the biochar pore spaces; iii) immobilisation of nitrogen through microbial utilisation of labile carbon further supported by increased soil moisture content, surface area, and pH. Dissolved organic carbon concentrations in leachate were reduced (-34.7 %, -28.9 %, and -16.7 %) in the substrate with 2, 5 and 10 % biochar additions, respectively. Fluorescein diacetate hydrolysis data showed increased microbial metabolic activity with biochar application (14.7 ± 0.5, 25.4 ± 5.3, 27.0 ± 0.1, 46.1 ± 6.1 µg FL g-1 h-1 for applications at 0, 2, 5, and 10 %, respectively), linking biochar addition to enhanced microbial activity. These data highlight the potential for biochar to suppress the long-term turnover of SOM and promote carbon sequestration, and a long-term sustainable growth substrate provided by the reuse of waste materials diverted from landfill.


Biochar; Carbon; Manufactured soil; Nitrogen; Sustainability; Waste materials

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