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RESEARCH ARTICLE

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
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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: lukas.van.zwieten@industry.nsw.gov.au

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(7) 569-576 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR10003
Submitted: 5 January 2010  Accepted: 23 June 2010   Published: 28 September 2010

Abstract

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.


Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the financial support from the NSW Climate Action Grant (T07/CAG/02) and Industry and Investment NSW for co-funding this project. We also acknowledge the inputs from Craig Hunt and Glen Rangott for the analysis of biochars, plant tissue, and soils. Carolyn Jenkinson from Industry and Investment Gosford is thanked for providing advice and assisting in the collection of soils for this study.


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