Soil Research Soil Research Society
Soil, land care and environmental research

Using poultry litter biochars as soil amendments

K. Y. Chan A E , L. Van Zwieten B , I. Meszaros A , A. Downie C D and S. Joseph D

A NSW Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 4, Richmond, NSW 2753, Australia.

B NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wollongbar, NSW 2477, Australia.

C Best Energies P/L, Somersby, NSW 2250, Australia.

D University of New South Wales, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 46(5) 437-444
Submitted: 22 February 2008  Accepted: 3 July 2008   Published: 5 August 2008


Despite the recent interest in biochars as soil amendments for improving soil quality and increasing soil carbon sequestration, there is inadequate knowledge on the soil amendment properties of these materials produced from different feed stocks and under different pyrolysis conditions. This is particularly true for biochars produced from animal origins. Two biochars produced from poultry litter under different conditions were tested in a pot trial by assessing the yield of radish (Raphanus sativus var. Long Scarlet) as well as the soil quality of a hardsetting Chromosol (Alfisol). Four rates of biochar (0, 10, 25, and 50 t/ha), with and without nitrogen application (100 kg N/ha) were investigated. Both biochars, without N fertiliser, produced similar increases in dry matter yield of radish, which were detectable at the lowest application rate, 10 t/ha. The yield increase (%), compared with the unamended control rose from 42% at 10 t/ha to 96% at 50 t/ha of biochar application. The yield increases can be attributed largely to the ability of these biochars to increase N availability. Significant additional yield increases, in excess of that due to N fertiliser alone, were observed when N fertiliser was applied together with the biochars, highlighting the other beneficial effects of these biochars. In this regard, the non activated poultry litter biochar produced at lower temperature (450°C) was more effective than the activated biochar produced at higher temperature (550°C), probably due to higher available P content. Biochar addition to the hardsetting soil resulted in significant but different changes in soil chemical and physical properties, including increases in C, N, pH, and available P, but reduction in soil strength. These different effects of the 2 different biochars can be related to their different characteristics. Significantly different changes in soil biology in terms of microbial biomass and earthworm preference properties were also observed between the 2 biochars, but the underlying mechanisms require further research. Our research highlights the importance of feedstock and process conditions during pyrolysis on the properties and, hence, soil amendment values of biochars.

Additional keywords: hardsetting soil, char, soil carbon sequestration, earthworms, microbial biomass, poultry manure, pyrolysis.


Almendros G Kincker H Gonzalez-Vila JF 2003 Rearrangement of carbon and nitrogen forms in peat after progressive thermal oxidation as determined by solid-state 13C- and 15N-NMR spectroscopy. Organic Geochemistry 34 1559 1568 doi:10.1016/S0146-6380(03)00152-9

Bagreev A Bandosz TJ Locke DC 2001 Pore structure and surface chemistry of adsorbents obtained by pyrolysis of sewage-derived fertiliser. Carbon 39 1971 1979 doi:10.1016/S0008-6223(01)00026-4

Baldock JA Smernik RJ 2002 Chemical composition and bioavailability of thermally altered Pinus resinosa (Red pine) wood. Organic Geochemistry 33 1093 1109 doi:10.1016/S0146-6380(02)00062-1

Brown RA Kercher AK Nguyen TH Nagle DC Ball WP 2006 Production and characterization of synthetic wood chars for use as surrogates for natural sorbents. Organic Geochemistry 37 321 333 doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2005.10.008

Chan KY Dorahy CG Tyler S Wells AT Milham PP Barchia I 2007 a Phosphorus accumulation and other changes in soil properties as a consequence of vegetable production in the Sydney region, New South Wales, Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research 45 139 146 doi:10.1071/SR06079

Chan KY van Zwieten L Meszaros I Downie A Joseph S 2007 b Agronomic values of green waste biochar as a soil amendment. Australian Journal of Soil Research 45 629 634 doi:10.1071/SR07109

Chan KY , Xu ZH (2009) Biochar—nutrient properties and their enhancement. In ‘Biochar for environmental management’. (Eds J Lehmann, S Joseph) (Earthscan Publisher: London) (in press)

Chun Y Sheng G Chiou CT Xing B 2004 Compositions and sorptive properties of crop residue-derived chars. Environmental Science & Technology 38 4649 4655 doi:10.1021/es035034w

Day D Evans RJ Lee JW Reicosky D 2004 Valuable and stable co-product from fossil fuel exhaust scrubbing. American Chemical Society, Division of Fuel Chemistry 49 352 355

Downie A , Klatt P , Downie R , Munroe P (2007) Slow pyrolysis: Australian Demonstration Plant successful on multi-feedstocks. In ‘Bioenergy 2007 Conference’. Jyvaskyla, Finland.

Gillman GP Sumpter EA 1986 Modification to the compulsive exchange method for measuring exchange characteristics of soil. Australian Journal of Soil Research 24 61 66

Glaser B , Lehannes J , Steiner C , Nehls T , Yousaf M , Zech W (2002 b) Potential of pyrolyzed organic matter in soil amelioration. In ‘12th ISCO Conference’. Beijing 2002, pp. 421–427.

Glaser B Lehmann J Zech W 2002 a Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal – a review. Biology and Fertility of Soils 35 219 230 doi:10.1007/s00374-002-0466-4

Guerrero M Ruiz MP Alzueta MU Bilbao R Millera A 2005 Pyrolysis of eucalyptus at different heating rates: studies of biochar characterisation and oxidative reactivity. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 74 307 314 doi:10.1016/j.jaap.2004.12.008

Hamer U Marschner B Brodowski S Amelung W 2004 Interactive priming of black carbon and glucose mineralization. Organic Geochemistry 35 823 830 doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2004.03.003

Hammes K Smernik RJ Skjemstad JO Herzog A Vogt UF Schmidt MWI 2006 Synthesis and characterisation of laboratory-charred grass straw (Oryza sativa) and chestnut wood (Castanea sativa) as reference materials for black carbon quantification. Organic Geochemistry 37 1629 1633 doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2006.07.003

Isbell RF (1996) ‘The Australian Soil Classification.’ (CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood, Vic.)

Islam KR Weil RR 1998 Microwave irradiation of soil for routine measurement of microbial biomass carbon. Biology and Fertility of Soils 27 408 416 doi:10.1007/s003740050451

Iswaran V Jauhri KS Sen A 1980 Effect of charcoal, coal and peat on the yield of moong, soybean and pea. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 12 191 192 doi:10.1016/0038-0717(80)90057-7

Kalra YP (1998) ‘Handbook of reference methods for plant analysis.’ Soil and Plant Council. (CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL)

Lehmann J de Silva JP Jr Steiner C Nehls T Zech W Glaser B 2003 Nutrient availability and leaching in an archaeological Anthrosol and a Ferralsol of the Central Amazon basin: fertilizer, manure and charcoal amendments. Plant and Soil 249 343 357 doi:10.1023/A:1022833116184

Lehmann J Gaunt J Rondon M 2006 Bio-char sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems – a review. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 11 403 427 doi:10.1007/s11027-005-9006-5

Mullins CE MacLeod DA Northcote KH Tidall JM Young IM (1990) Hardsetting soils: behaviour, occurrence and management. In ‘Soil degradation’. (Eds R Lal, BA Stewart). Advances in Soil Science 11, 37–99.

Nguyen TH Brown RA Ball WP 2004 An evaluation of thermal resistance as a measure of black carbon content in diesel soot, wood char, and sediment. Organic Geochemistry 35 217 234 doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2003.09.005

OECD (1984) Earthworm, acute toxicity tests. In ‘OECD Guidelines for Testing of Chemicals. Section 2, Effects on biotic systems’. (OECD: Paris)

Rayment GE , Higginson FR (1992) ‘Australian laboratory handbook of soil and water chemical methods.’ (Inkata Press: Melbourne, Vic.)

Rondon MA Lehmann J Ramirez J Hurtado M 2007 Biological nitrogen fixation by common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) increases with bio-char additions. Biology and Fertility of Soils 43 699 708 doi:10.1007/s00374-006-0152-z

Saito M Marumoto T 2002 Inoculation with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: the status quo in Japan and the future prospects. Plant and Soil 244 273 279 doi:10.1023/A:1020287900415

Shinogi Y (2004) Nutrient leaching from carbon products of sludge. In ‘ASAE/CSAE Annual International Meeting’. Paper No. 044063, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Standards Australia (2003) ‘Australian Standard™ composts, soil conditioners and mulches – AS4454–2003.’ (Standard Australia International Ltd: Sydney)

Topoliantz S Ponge J 2005 Charcoal consumption and casting activity by Pontoscolex corethrurus (Glossoscolecidae). Applied Soil Ecology 28 217 224 doi:10.1016/j.apsoil.2004.08.003

USEPA (1996) ‘Acid digestion of sediments, sludge and soils. USEPA Method 3050B. Test methods for evaluating solid waste, physical/chemical methods.’ (US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC)

Van Zwieten L , Kimber S , Downie A , Chan KY , Cowie A , Wainberg R , Morris S (2007) Papermill Char: Benefits to soil health and plant production. In ‘International Char Initiative Conference’. 30 April–2 May 2007, Terrigal, NSW.

Vories ED Costello TA Glover RE 2001 Runoff from cotton fields fertilized with poultry litter. Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers 44 1495 1502

Wilkinson K (2003) Strategies for the safe use of poultry litter in food crop production. Final report for project VG01049 Horticulture Australia, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria.

Rent Article Export Citation Cited By (282)