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Soil chemical properties and organic matter composition of a subtropical Cambisol after charcoal fine residues incorporation

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Brazil is the world’s greatest charcoal producer with an annual production of 10 million tons. However, about 15 % is lost as charcoal fines, which can be used as soil fertilizer and source of soil stable carbon (C). In this study we, investigated the impact of charcoal fines application on soil chemical properties and organic matter (SOM) stability and composition.

Materials and methods

Four doses (0, control, 10, 20 and 40 Mg ha−1) of charcoal fines were incorporated to the soil at 10 cm. Soil samples were collected at four soil depths (0–5, 5–10, 10–20, and 20–30 cm) 20 months after charcoal incorporation. Soil chemical properties were determined, and SOM composition was evaluated by infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), scanning electron microscopy (SEM-EDX) and carbon stable isotopic analysis.

Results and discussion

Soil chemical properties were affected mainly in the upper depth (0–5 cm) and only at the highest dose (40 Mg ha−1), which also increased the total C content in 37.7 % compared to the control. Probably, the observed effects solely on the surface are due the concentration of charcoal on the upper depth, despite its incorporation. The dose of 40 Mg ha−1 also increased the total C content at 10–20 cm depth compared to the control. Such result was assigned to the leaching of some finest charcoal particles. The SEM-EDX and SOM δ13C signature confirmed the presence of charcoal at both 0–5 and 10–20 cm soil depths. FTIR and TGA indicated an increase in SOM aromaticity and thermostability until 20 cm depth after charcoal incorporation. No effects were observed at the deepest soil depth (20–30 cm), suggesting that charcoal was not leached to this depth within 20 months.


The application of charcoal fines ameliorated the soil chemical properties. In general, the charcoal increased the SOM aromaticity and thermostability and changed the δ13C signature at 0–5 and 10–20 cm. Charcoal leaching from the 0–10 to the 10–20 cm depth was observed, but further downward transport was not evidenced by our data. Charcoal fine residues show a potential to be used as an effective soil fertilizer, as well as a stable C source into the soil.

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The authors are grateful to the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development-CNPq (Brazil) and Coordination for the improvement of Higher Education Personnel-Capes (Brazil) for the research fellowship and to the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), State University of Centro-Oeste (Brazil), and Institute for Natural Resources and Agrobiology (Spain) for support this project. This work has been also partly funded by MINECO and the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER) through the project GEOFIRE (ref. CGL2012-268 38655-C04-01) and the bilateral project 2011BR0097.

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Correspondence to Otávio dos Anjos Leal.

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Responsible editor: Frank G. A. Verheijen

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Leal, O.d.A., Dick, D.P., Lombardi, K.C. et al. Soil chemical properties and organic matter composition of a subtropical Cambisol after charcoal fine residues incorporation. J Soils Sediments 15, 805–815 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-014-1040-z

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  • Carbon stable isotope ratio
  • Infrared spectroscopy
  • Organic matter thermostability
  • Scanning electron microscopy
  • Soil fertilizer