Biochars have long been associated with elevating plant productivity. An increasing number of studies, however, report that char application might also impair plant nutrient availability and reduce yields. In particular, char accompanying compounds as well as a hypothesized immobilization of nitrogen have been identified as playing a significant role in possibly diminishing plant productivity following char application. Herein, we tested the fertilizing effects of modified biochars in order to derive knowledge required to develop tailor-made chars, which predictably affect plant nutrition. Slow-pyrolysis maize cob biochar was modified by washing with either ethanol or hydrochloric acid to remove ash and organic compounds or by loading it with nutrient-rich residues in the form of digestate from the bioenergy sector. Maize plants were grown for 35 days on biochar-amended sand. We analyzed both substrate properties (pH, total carbon, and nitrogen, available magnesium and potassium) and plant functional traits (biomass, leaf area, root to shoot ratio, specific leaf area). Our results suggest that total plant biomass production remained unaffected by the application of biochar and its washed forms. Contrastingly, nutrient-loaded biochar induced a significant increase in productivity at similar nutrient levels due to improved plant nutrient uptake. Further research is required to understand the role of biochar modifications that facilitated improvements in plant productivity.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited