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

A glasshouse study on the interaction of low mineral ash biochar with nitrogen in a sandy soil

L. van Zwieten A E , S. Kimber A , A. Downie B C , S. Morris A , S. Petty A , J. Rust A and K. Y. Chan D

A NSW Industry and Investment, 1243 Bruxner Highway, Wollongbar, NSW 2477, Australia.

B Pacific Pyrolysis P/L, Somersby, NSW 2250, Australia.

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

D NSW Industry and Investment, Richmond, NSW 2753, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(7) 569-576
Submitted: 5 January 2010  Accepted: 23 June 2010   Published: 28 September 2010


The effect of a low mineral ash biochar on biomass production and nitrogen (N) uptake into plants was tested with wheat and radish in a Yellow Earth used for commercial vegetable production. The biochar had an acid neutralising capacity <0.5% CaCO3, a total C content of 75%, and a molar H/C ratio of 0.45, indicating stability due to its aromaticity. A pot trial was established under climate-controlled conditions. Five rates of N fertiliser (0, 17, 44, 88, 177 kg N/ha) were applied as urea in combination with 5 biochar rates (0, 1.1, 2.2, 4.4, 11% w/w). Analysis of biomass production revealed a significant biochar × N fertiliser interaction. In particular, increasing biochar concentrations improved biomass production in both crop species at lower N application rates. The highest biochar application rate resulted in significantly greater accumulation of NO3 -N in the soil and lower NH4 +-N averaged across the 5 N application rates. The biochar also decreased available P, and significantly increased microbial activity measured using the fluorescein diacetate method. Increasing N fertiliser application resulted in greater accumulation of NO3 -N with no changes to NH4 +-N averaged across the 5 biochar application rates. Nitrogen fertiliser application did not influence microbial activity or biomass C. The trial suggests that in some cropping systems, biochar application will enable reduced N fertiliser input while maintaining productivity.

Additional keywords: biomass production, low mineral ash biochar, microbial activity, nitrogen, yellow earth.


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