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A combination of waste materials supplemented with a product of biomass could help in the search for high quality soils, a new study suggests.
Soil degradation is posing a huge threat to global food security and every year, around 12 million hectares of cropland are lost to soil erosion.
Scientists - University - Plymouth - Biochar—a - Material
Scientists from the University of Plymouth have demonstrated that adding biochar—a solid, carbon-rich material derived from biomass—to soil constructed from waste materials, reduces the loss of essential nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon.
This, they believe, can improve the sustainability of manufactured soils by enhancing conditions suitable to sustain plant growth, by improving moisture content, nutrient retention and carbon storage capacity.
Soil - Dependence - Fertiliser - Applications - Cost
It will also lower the soil's dependence on intensive fertiliser applications, reducing both cost and the risk of pollution from the excessive leaching of nitrogen.
The study, published in Science of the Total Environment, focused on a soil composed of waste materials, which has been deployed to support a variety of plants within natural and artificial environments over an 18-year timescale.
Success - Fertiliser - Applications - Nutrients - Research
However, its success has relied on regular fertiliser applications to supply the required nutrients so the research objective was to measure the effect of biochar application on the retention of macronutrients over the experimental period.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Kate Schofield, who led the research, said: "Manufactured soils are a growing component in the fight for global food security. But for them to be effective and sustainable, they must retain and cycle nutrients without the need for significant fertiliser inputs. This study has shown that, by combining waste material with pyrolysed biomass (charcoal), the amount of nutrients escaping can be significantly reduced. It is a promising first indication that sustainable soils from waste can be generated and something we are now...
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