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Title: Impact of biochar manipulations on water and nitrogen
Author: Ulyett, James
ISNI:       0000 0004 5360 0296
Awarding Body: Cranfield University
Current Institution: Cranfield University
Date of Award: 2014
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A loss of soil organic matter (SOM), whether through natural means or management practices, results in soil degradation. Biochar as a soil amendment can alter soil properties, ultimately affecting the availability of nitrogen and water to plants and thus crop growth. The effects of biochar are not definitive, and often dependent on both the soil type and the biochar applied. Biochar properties can change according to the feedstock and production parameters, thus for their effective use further investigation is required to link biochar properties to its effects in soil. A high-temperature (600˚ C) biochar from a mixed-hardwood feedstock was investigated. The biochar increased the soil water retention, as demonstrated by a water release curve and field trials. This retention was predominant at higher water potentials, which was attributed to the greater number of meso (storage) pores in the biochar. Biochar did not affect the soil’s saturated hydraulic conductivity; this is thought to be due to the low number of macro (transmission) pores in the biochar. Thus there was no effect on the transmission rate in the soil. Biochar reduced gross ammonium levels in the soil via adsorption, but resulted in increased non-exchangeable ammonium levels, possibly due to physical entrapment. Where carbon was already abundant in the organically managed soil, the adsorbed ammonium reduced nitrification through lower substrate availability. The range of carbon fractions added as a result of the biochar amendment increased the total organic carbon (TOC) content of the soil, but this supplementary carbon was released by the microorganisms as carbon dioxide. Microorganisms in the relatively carbon poor conventionally managed soil (with lower TOC), assimilated the additional labile carbon increasing microbial biomass. The higher microbial biomass, combined with improvements in pH and the higher ammonium levels (as a result of the ammoniacal fertiliser) increased nitrification. These changes in water and nitrogen availability did not alter crop yields as measured in the glasshouse and field trials. The effects of this biochar in a sandy agricultural soil depended on the type and level of carbon and nitrogen present in the soil, thus consideration of these factors should be taken when applying.
Supervisor: Sakrabani, R. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biochar ; High-temperature Pyrolysis ; Soil Organic Matter ; Nitrification ; Mineralisation ; Ammonium Adsorption ; Microbial Activity ; Water Retention ; Porosity