Plant and Soil

, Volume 350, Issue 1, pp 35–42

Biochar’s role as an alternative N-fertilizer: ammonia capture

  • Kurt A. Spokas
  • Jeff M. Novak
  • Rodney T. Venterea

DOI: 10.1007/s11104-011-0930-8

Cite this article as:
Spokas, K.A., Novak, J.M. & Venterea, R.T. Plant Soil (2012) 350: 35. doi:10.1007/s11104-011-0930-8



Biochar’s role as a carbon sequestration agent, while simultaneously providing soil fertility improvements when used as an amendment, has been receiving significant attention across all sectors of society, ranging from academia, industry, government, as well as the general public. This has lead to some exaggeration and possible confusion regarding biochar’s actual effectiveness as a soil amendment. One sparsely explored area where biochar appears to have real potential for significant impact is the soil nitrogen cycle.


Taghizadeh-Toosi et al. (this issue) examined ammonia sorption on biochar as a means of providing a nitrogen-enriched soil amendment. The longevity of the trapped ammonia was particularly remarkable; it was sequestered in a stable form for at least 12 days under laboratory air flow. Furthermore, the authors observed increased 15N uptake by plants grown in soil amended with the 15N-enriched biochar, indicating that the 15N was not irreversibly bound, but, was plant-available.


Their observations add credence to utilizing biochar as a carrier for nitrogen fertilization, while potentially reducing the undesired environmental consequences through gas emissions, overland flow, and leaching.


BiocharBlack carbonNitrogen fertilizationNitrogen cycle

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt A. Spokas
    • 1
  • Jeff M. Novak
    • 2
  • Rodney T. Venterea
    • 1
  1. 1.USDA-ARS, Soil and Water Management UnitSt. PaulUSA
  2. 2.USDA-ARS, Coastal Plains Soil, Water, and Plant Research CenterFlorenceUSA