Read the full story at Colorado State University.
For more than 100 years, biochar, a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made from oxygen-deprived plant or other organic matter, has both delighted and puzzled scientists. As a soil additive, biochar can store carbon and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it can slow-release nutrients to act as a non-toxic fertilizer.
But the precise chemistry by which biochar stores nutrients and promotes plant growth has remained a mystery, so its commercial potential has been severely limited.
Now, an international team of researchers, with key contributions by Colorado State University experts, has illuminated unprecedented detail and mechanistic understanding of biochar’s seemingly miraculous properties. The Nature Communications study, led by Germany’s University of Tuebingen and published Oct. 20, demonstrated how composting of biochar creates a very thin organic coating that significantly improves the biochar’s fertilizing capabilities. A combination of advanced analytical techniques confirmed that the coating strengthens the biochar’s interactions with water and its ability to store soil nitrates and other nutrients.