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

Influence of biochar application to soil on the availability of As, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn to maize (Zea mays L.)

Tshewang Namgay A , Balwant Singh A C and Bhupinder Pal Singh B

A Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

B Forest Science Centre, Industry and Investment NSW, PO Box 100, Beecroft, NSW 2119, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(7) 638-647
Submitted: 24 February 2010  Accepted: 24 June 2010   Published: 28 September 2010


Biochar has gained importance due to its ability to increase the long-term soil carbon pool and improve crop productivity. However, little research has been done to evaluate the influence of biochar application to soil on the bioavailability of trace elements to plants. A pot experiment was conducted to investigate the influence of biochar on the availability of As, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn to maize (Zea mays L.). An activated wood biochar, pyrolysed at 550°C, was applied at 3 rates (0, 5, and 15 g/kg) in factorial combinations with 3 rates (0, 10, and 50 mg/kg) each of As, Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn separately to a sandy soil. After 10 weeks of growth, plants were harvested, shoot dry matter yield was measured, and concentration of trace elements in shoots was analysed. The soil in pots was analysed for extractable trace elements. The results showed that the addition of wood biochar to soil did not have any significant effect on the dry matter yield of maize plants, even at the highest rate of application. However, trace element application significantly reduced the dry matter yield from 10 to 93% depending on the type of trace element. Biochar application decreased the concentration of As, Cd, and Cu in maize shoots, especially at the highest rate of trace element application, whereas the effects were inconsistent on Pb and Zn concentrations in the shoots. The concentrations of extractable As and Zn in soil increased with biochar application, whereas extractable Cu did not change, Pb decreased, and Cd showed an inconsistent trend. Sorption of trace elements on biochar with initial loadings up to 200 µmol at pH 7 occurred in the order: Pb > Cu > Cd > Zn > As. The results show that biochar application can significantly reduce the availability of trace elements to plants and suggest that biochar application may have potential for the management of soils contaminated by trace elements.

Additional keywords: char, trace elements, soil contamination, bioavailability, adsorption, maize, trace elements.


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