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Biochar for Soil Remediation

Background

Disturbing soils through various industrial activities results in the loss of nutrients, increased bulk density and changes in physical, chemical and biotic properties, including the loss of soil organic matter. Soil organic matter plays a vital role in the success of disturbed land reclamation and remediation, improving soil properties such as nutrient availability, infiltration and water holding capacity. Properties such as these are of uniquely significant importance for ecosystem functions that will assist in long-term sustainable reclamation in arid and semi-arid climates that are found across large areas of the western United States.

Biochar For Enhanced Remediation

The accumulation of soil carbon using natural recovery techniques is a slow process, and a successful remediation project serves to accelerate the natural recovery process to build long-term carbon storage and soil health.

Biochar has been used and an amendment for the remediation of drastically disturbed sites due to micro-chemical, physical, and biological properties as well as it’s stability in soil.

Through the creation of an engineered vegetative cover, biochar, in addition to other soil amendments, can effectively reduce erosion, and therefore contaminant leaching, by providing an anchored biological surface structure to manage disturbances and the vertical migration of water through contaminated sub-surface mediums.

The successful stabilization of disturbed landscapes is contingent upon the long-term natural succession of plant communities, enhanced soil development processes, and the restoration of soil microbial ecosystem functionality to a state of self-sustainability. The inclusion of biochar in engineered vegetative covers may greatly enhance the success of remediation and can be achieved in ways that can be more cost-effective than conventional approaches.

Table 1. Role of Biochar in Ameliorating Drastically Disturbed Lands

Limiting Factor Variable Problem Short-term Treatment Long-term Treatment Role of Biochar
Physical
Soil Structure
Soil Erosion

Soil Moisture
Soil too compact
High erodibility

Too wet

Too dry
Rip or Scarify
Mulch

Drain

Organic mulch
Vegetation
Re-grade, Vegetation
Wetland construction
Tolerant species

Decreased soil bulk destiny, increased infiltration, and decreased erodibility.

Increased water retention due to surface area and charge characteristics.

Nutritional Macronutrients
Nitrogen deficiency

Other deficiencies
Fertilizer


Fertilizer
N-fixing plants e.g. leguminous trees or shrubs
Fertilizer, Amendments, Tolerant species

Yield increases.

Slow nutrient release.

Soil organic matter stabilization.

Retention of released nutrients.

Increased microbial activity.

Habitat for mychorrhizal fungal hyphae.

Toxicity
pH




Heavy Metals





Salinity


Sodicity
Acid soils (< 4.5)


Alkaline soils (> 7.8)
High concentrations




EC >4.0 dS/m, pH<8.5 SAR<13

EC <4.0 dS/m, pH>8.5 SAR>13
Lime


Pyritic waste, Organic matter
Organic matter, Tolerant cultivar




Gypsum, irrigation


Gypsum, irrigation
Tolerant species


Weathering, Tolerant species
Inert covering, Tolerant cultivar




Weathering, Tolerant species

Weathering, Tolerant species
Designed for alkaline surface charge.
High CEC for Na retention.
High surface area and cation exchange capacity allows for metal retention.

Mixed with gypsum to reduce soil structural issues.

Nutritional values as described.

High CEC for Na retention.