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Title:Using Biochar as a Soil Amendment for Sustainable Agriculture
Author(s):Zheng, Wei; Sharma, B.K.; Rajagopalan, Nandakishore
Subject(s):Biochar -- Illinois -- Research
Sustainable agriculture -- Illinois -- Research
Abstract:Biochar is a charred carbon-enriched material intended to be used as a soil amendment to sequester carbon and enhance soil quality. Sustainable biochar is produced from waste biomass using modern thermochemcial technologies.

Addition of sustainable biochar to soil has many environmental and agricultural benefits, including waste reduction, energy production, carbon sequestration, water resource protection, and soil improvement. Therefore, the use of sustainable biochar as a soil amendment is an innovative and highly promising practice for sustainable agriculture. In this project, three proposed tasks have been completed.

First, we developed a lab-scale pyrolyzer to convert a variety of waste biomass to three valuable bio-products. The effects of pyrolysis temperature and the type of feedstock on the yields of three bio-products were performed. The properties of various biochars were characterized.

Second, a series of batch experiments was conducted to determine the sorption capacities of biochar for ammonium and phosphate ions (NH4+ and PO43-). The sorption kinetics and removal mechanisms of the above two nutrients by biochar were comprehensively investigated. This study showed that two biochars produced from wood wastes could simultaneously sorb NH4+ and PO43-, suggesting that the addition of biochar into soil can retain nutrients in soil, prevent their runoff or leaching, and thereby retain them so they are available to plants.

Third, a field trial was conducted in an Illinois agricultural field to demonstrate that using biochar as a soil amendment can improve soil quality and increase crop yields. A synergetic effect was observed when the use of biochar was combined with fertilizer. It indicates that using biochar as a soil amendment can reduce chemical fertilizer use while at the same time keeping high crop yields.

This project, to the best of our knowledge, represents the first field demonstration on the use of biochar as a soil amendment in fertile soils typical of Illinois. The project also catalyzed the hosting of the first biochar research conference in the state and the formation of a network of researchers committed to further exploration of the potential benefits and pitfalls related to biochar.

See a video summary of the project at
Issue Date:2010-12
Series/Report:Waste utilization -- Biochar
Pollutants -- Agricultural chemicals
Genre:Report (Grant or Annual)
Publication Status:unpublished
Peer Reviewed:not peer reviewed
Sponsor:Illinois Department of Agriculture. Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program; SA 09-37
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-06-21
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