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Effects of biochar from slow pyrolysis of papermill waste on agronomic performance and soil fertility

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The amendment of two agricultural soils with two biochars derived from the slow pyrolysis of papermill waste was assessed in a glasshouse study. Characterisation of both biochars revealed high surface area (115 m2 g−1) and zones of calcium mineral agglomeration. The biochars differed slightly in their liming values (33% and 29%), and carbon content (50% and 52%). Molar H/C ratios of 0.3 in the biochars suggested aromatic stability. At application rates of 10 t ha−1 in a ferrosol both biochars significantly increased pH, CEC, exchangeable Ca and total C, while in a calcarosol both biochars increased C while biochar 2 also increased exchangeable K. Biochars reduced Al availability (ca. 2 cmol (+) kg−1 to <0.1 cmol (+) kg−1) in the ferrosol. The analysis of biomass production revealed a range of responses, due to both biochar characteristics and soil type. Both biochars significantly increased N uptake in wheat grown in fertiliser amended ferrosol. Concomitant increase in biomass production (250% times that of control) therefore suggested improved fertiliser use efficiency. Likewise, biochar amendment significantly increased biomass in soybean and radish in the ferrosol with fertiliser. The calcarosol amended with fertiliser and biochar however gave varied crop responses: Increased soybean biomass, but reduced wheat and radish biomass. No significant effects of biochar were shown in the absence of fertiliser for wheat and soybean, while radish biomass increased significantly. Earthworms showed preference for biochar-amended ferrosol over control soils with no significant difference recorded for the calcarosol. The results from this work demonstrate that the agronomic benefits of papermill biochars have to be verified for different soil types and crops.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Mark Glover and Ron Wainberg, Renewed Fuels, for co-funding and providing input into the project, and Adam Wightwick, Victorian Department of Primary Industries, for sourcing and providing the calcarosol. Acknowledgement also to NSW Department of Primary Industries for co-funding the project.

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Correspondence to L. Van Zwieten.

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Responsible Editor: Peter Christie.

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Van Zwieten, L., Kimber, S., Morris, S. et al. Effects of biochar from slow pyrolysis of papermill waste on agronomic performance and soil fertility. Plant Soil 327, 235–246 (2010).

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