Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 219–230

Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal – a review


  • Bruno Glaser
    • Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography, University of Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany
  • Johannes Lehmann
    • Department of Crop and Soil Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
  • Wolfgang Zech
    • Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography, University of Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany
Review Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00374-002-0466-4

Cite this article as:
Glaser, B., Lehmann, J. & Zech, W. Biol Fertil Soils (2002) 35: 219. doi:10.1007/s00374-002-0466-4


Rapid turnover of organic matter leads to a low efficiency of organic fertilizers applied to increase and sequester C in soils of the humid tropics. Charcoal was reported to be responsible for high soil organic matter contents and soil fertility of anthropogenic soils (Terra Preta) found in central Amazonia. Therefore, we reviewed the available information about the physical and chemical properties of charcoal as affected by different combustion procedures, and the effects of its application in agricultural fields on nutrient retention and crop production. Higher nutrient retention and nutrient availability were found after charcoal additions to soil, related to higher exchange capacity, surface area and direct nutrient additions. Higher charring temperatures generally improved exchange properties and surface area of the charcoal. Additionally, charcoal is relatively recalcitrant and can therefore be used as a long-term sink for atmospheric CO2. Several aspects of a charcoal management system remain unclear, such as the role of microorganisms in oxidizing charcoal surfaces and releasing nutrients and the possibilities to improve charcoal properties during production under field conditions. Several research needs were identified, such as field testing of charcoal production in tropical agroecosystems, the investigation of surface properties of the carbonized materials in the soil environment, and the evaluation of the agronomic and economic effectiveness of soil management with charcoal.

Carbon sequestration Charcoal addition to soil Nutrient leaching Soil amelioration Sustainable landuse

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2002