Nav: Home

Improving poor soil with burned up biomass

June 17, 2016

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan have shown that torrefied biomass can improve the quality of poor soil found in arid regions. Published in Scientific Reports, the study showed that adding torrefied biomass to poor soil from Botswana increased water retention in the soil as well as --the amount of plant growth.

When high temperatures and the absence of oxygen are used to bring about the decomposition of biomass residue from agricultural products such as grains, the result is a charcoal-rich substance called biochar. Torrefied biomass -- sometimes called bio-coal -- is a type of biochar made at relatively lower temperatures that has recently received attention as a pretreatment method for biomass utilization.

In order to characterize the biological properties of soil treated with biochar, the team incorporated torrefied plant residual biomass from the biodiesel crop Jatropha curcas into aridisol, a type of soil found in arid regions such as Botswana, and compared several soil properties with samples that had not been treated.

Explained team leader Jun Kikuchi, "Jatropha is a potential biomass resource for dryland African landscapes, but the poor climate and soil conditions have limited its production. Our study shows that treating the poor soil with torrefied biomass improves a variety of factors that ultimately lead to greater plant growth."

An important quality of good soil is its ability to retain water. Tests showed that water retention increased with the percentage of torrefied biomass, with 5% biomass yielding a soil that contained about 5% more water than the control soil. A good soil also remains structurally sound deeper in the ground where pressure from above is higher. Soil treated with 5% torrefied biomass showed significantly higher levels of compression stress than the control soil, and significantly shorter relaxation time -- the time needed for it to relax back into its normal shape after being compressed.

After finding that the torrefied biomass retained more water, the team tested the chemical properties of the soils. They found that levels of potassium, phosphorous, and sulfur were higher in the soil treated with torrefied biomass, as was the availability of potassium, sodium, and phosphorous -- three elements regularly take up from the soil by plants.

When they tested how well plants grew in the different soils, they found that plants grown in the torrefied biomass had thicker stems, much longer roots, and were heavier that those grown in the untreated soil. The plants grown in torrefied biomass also took up more potassium than controls and less manganese, an element known to inhibit plant growth.

Other important features of soil are its metabolic and microbial components. Some compounds produced by the degradation and break down of cellulose are known to promote plant growth. The researchers found that levels of these organic acids, such as lactate and acetate, were higher in the treated soil, again supporting the idea that torrefied biomass can enhance soil fertilization. The treated soil also showed higher levels of Devosia sp. And Opitutus sp., bacteria that use lactate as a carbon source. This indicated that the soil metabolites available in the treated soil allowed for a different microbial environment that presumably acted to enhance plant growth.

"Our next step," says Kikuchi, "is to elucidate the complicated reactions between symbiotic microbiota and plants for effective growth in nutrient-poor environments."
-end-
Reference: Ogura T, Date Y, Masukujane M, Coetzee T, Akashi K, Kikuchi J (2016) Improvement of physical, chemical, and biological properties of aridisol from Botswana by the incorporation of torrefied biomass. Scientific Reports. doi: 10.1038/srep28011

RIKEN

Related Plant Growth Articles:

Plant cell walls' stretch-but-don't-break growth more complex than once thought
Plant cell wall growth is typically described as a simple process, but researchers using a microscope that can resolve images on the nanoscale level have observed something more complex.
Electronics to control plant growth
A drug delivery ion pump constructed from organic electronic components also works in plants.
Researchers develop equation that helps to explain plant growth
New UCLA biology breakthrough has important implications for plants as they adapt to a warming environment.
Mutant maize offers key to understanding plant growth
New findings by a University of California, Riverside-led team of researchers, lend support to the second idea, that the orientation of cell division is critical for overall plant growth.
How plant cells regulate growth shown for the first time
Researchers have managed to show how the cells in a plant, a multicellular organism, determine their size and regulate their growth over time.
Compounds produced by phytopathogenic microbes encourage plant growth
A broad range of microorganisms, including phytopathogenic fungi and bacteria, are capable of producing volatile compounds that encourage plant growth, flowering and the accumulation of reserve substances.
Compounds emitted by phytopathogen microbes encourage plant growth
A wide range of microorganisms, including fungi and phytopathogenic bacteria, are capable of emitting volatile compounds which boost plant growth and flowering, and in accumulating up reserves as demonstrated in a study led by scientific researchers at Navarra's Institute of Agro biotechnology, in northern Spain, which is a mixed centre shared between Spain's National Research Council (CSIC), the Public University of Navarra, and the Regional Government of Navarra.
Ancient proteins shown to control plant growth
A UCLA-led international team of life scientists reports the discovery of new mechanisms regulating plant growth that quite possibly provide new insights into how the mammalian biological clock affects human health.
Study finds that plant growth responses to high carbon dioxide depend on symbiotic fungi
Research by an international team of environmental scientists from the United Kingdom, Belgium and United States, including Indiana University, has found that plants that associate with one type of symbiotic fungi grow bigger in response to high levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the atmosphere, but plants that associate with the other major type of symbiotic fungi do not.
New understanding of plant growth brings promise of tailored products for industry
In the search for low-emission plant-based fuels, new research could lead to sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel-based products.

Related Plant Growth Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#520 A Closer Look at Objectivism
This week we broach the topic of Objectivism. We'll be speaking with Keith Lockitch, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, about the philosophy of Objectivism as it's taught through Ayn Rand's writings. Then we'll speak with Denise Cummins, cognitive scientist, author and fellow at the Association for Psychological Science, about the impact of Objectivist ideology on society. Related links: This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong Quote is from "A Companion to Ayn Rand"