Biochar in Land Reclamation, Biosolids Applications and Prescribed Fires
Fields-Johnson, Christopher Warren
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Biochar is a form of stable organic carbon whose application to soils has the potential to sequester large amounts of atmospheric CO2 while improving the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil. However, the optimal rates and methods of biochar application are unknown for many situations. Three experiments were performed to test methods of biochar application to soils as a stand-alone amendment, in combination with biosolids as a complementary amendment and in-situ through controlled landscape burning. The first was a greenhouse pot study, which involved combining biochar with spoil from an Appalachian surface coal mine to grow trees. Biochar combined with mine soil produced a much higher growth rate for trees, and pure biochar helped tree root growth, suggesting that it might be useful as a broadcasted amendment, as a nursery growing medium or as a backfill in tree planting holes. The second experiment explored methods to combine biochar and biosolids materials to form a granular product. Combining biochar and biosolids before applications reduced windborne losses of biochar as well as the nutrient leachate produced by the biosolids. Drum rolling was found to work best for producing aggregate granules. Wetting pure biochar to 100% gravimetric water content before applications reduced windborne losses from over 50% to under 5% as compared to when it was applied as a dry product. A series of controlled burns were conducted in the third experiment to determine the ideal range of meteorological conditions to produce the highest possible biochar yields in-situ. Relative humidity, forest litter moisture and ambient temperature were found to be the governing factors over the tonnage of biochar produced. Up to 3.0 Mg Ha-1 of biochar were produced under ideal conditions by controlled burning. Repeated high-yielding burns have the potential accumulate large amounts of biochar in the soil to improve soil properties.
- Doctoral Dissertations