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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section: Environmental Benefits of Biochar

Germination Tests for Assessing Biochar Quality


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 4, p. 1014-1022
    Received: Mar 22, 2012

    * Corresponding author(s): natashar@iastate.edu
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  1. N. Rogovska *a,
  2. D. Lairda,
  3. R. M. Crusea,
  4. S. Trabuea and
  5. E. Heatona
  1. a Dep. of Agronomy, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011; S. Trabue, USDA–ARS, Natl. Lab. for Agriculture & Environment, Ames, IA 50011. Assigned to Associate Editor Warren Busscher


Definition, analysis, and certification of biochar quality are crucial to the agronomic acceptance of biochar. While most biochars have a positive impact on plant growth, some may have adverse effects due to the presence of phytotoxic compounds. Conversely, some biochars may have the ability to adsorb and neutralize natural phytotoxic compounds found in soil. We evaluated the effects of biochars on seedling growth and absorption of allelochemicals present in corn (Zea mays L.) residues. Corn seeds were germinated in aqueous extracts of six biochars produced from varied feedstocks, thermochemical processes, and temperatures. Percent germination and shoot and radicle lengths were evaluated at the end of the germination period. Extracts from the six biochars had no effect on percent germination; however, extracts from three biochars produced at high conversion temperatures significantly inhibited shoot growth by an average of 16% relative to deionized (DI) water. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons detected in the aqueous extracts are believed to be at least partly responsible for the reduction in seedling growth. Repeated leaching of biochars before extract preparation eliminated the negative effects on seedling growth. Biochars differ significantly in their capacity to adsorb allelochemicals present in corn residues. Germination of corn seeds in extracts of corn residue showed 94% suppression of radicle growth compared to those exposed to DI water; however, incubation of corn residue extracts with leached biochar for 24 h before initiating the germination test increased radicle length 6 to 12 times compared to the corn residue extract treatments. Germination tests appear to be a reliable procedure to differentiate between effects of different types of biochar on corn seedling growth.

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Copyright © 2012. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.