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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 4, p. 1123-1130
    Received: Mar 18, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): jim.ippolito@ars.usda.gov
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Switchgrass Biochar Affects Two Aridisols

  1. J. A. Ippolito *a,
  2. J. M. Novakb,
  3. W. J. Busscherb,
  4. M. Ahmednac,
  5. D. Rehrahd and
  6. D. W. Wattsb
  1. a USDA–ARS, Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Lab., 3793N 3600E, Kimberly, ID 83341
    b USDA–ARS, Coastal Plains Research Center, Florence, SC 29501
    c Dep. of Human Environment and Family Sciences, North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State Univ., Greensboro, NC 27411.
    d Dep. of Human Environment and Family Sciences, North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State Univ., Greensboro, NC 27411.Assigned to Associate Editor David Laird


The use of biochar has received growing attention because of its ability to improve the physicochemical properties of highly weathered Ultisols and Oxisols, yet very little research has focused on its effects in Aridisols. We investigated the effect of low or high temperature (250 or 500°C) pyrolyzed switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) biochar on two Aridisols. In a pot study, biochar was added at 2% w/w to a Declo loam (Xeric Haplocalcids) or to a Warden very fine sandy loam (Xeric Haplocambids) and incubated at 15% moisture content (by weight) for 127 d; a control (no biochar) was also included. Soils were leached with 1.2 to 1.3 pore volumes of deionized H2O on Days 34, 62, 92, and 127, and cumulative leachate Ca, K, Mg, Na, P, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Zn, NO3–N, NO2–N, and NH4–N concentrations were quantified. On termination of the incubation, soils were destructively sampled for extractable Cr, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, Ni, P, Zn, NO3–N, and NH4–N, total C, inorganic C, organic C, and pH. Compared with 250°C, the 500°C pyrolysis temperature resulted in greater biochar surface area, elevated pH, higher ash content, and minimal total surface charge. For both soils, leachate Ca and Mg decreased with the 250°C switchgrass biochar, likely due to binding by biochar’s functional group sites. Both biochars caused an increase in leachate K, whereas the 500°C biochar increased leachate P. Both biochars reduced leachate NO3–N concentrations compared with the control; however, the 250°C biochar reduced NO3–N concentrations to the greatest extent. Easily degradable C, associated with the 250°C biochar’s structural make-up, likely stimulated microbial growth, which caused NO3–N immobilization. Soil-extractable K, P, and NO3–N followed a pattern similar to the leachate observations. Total soil C content increases were linked to an increase in organic C from the biochars. Cumulative results suggest that the use of switchgrass biochar prepared at 250°C could improve environmental quality in calcareous soil systems by reducing nutrient leaching potential.

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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.