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Science of The Total Environment
Vol. 581-582, 2017, Pages: 601–611

Potential role of biochars in decreasing soil acidification - A critical review

Zhongmin Dai, Xiaojie Zhang, C. Tang, Niaz Muhammad, Jianjun Wu, Philip C. Brookes, Jianming Xu

Institute of Soil and Water Resources and Environmental Science, Zhejiang Provincial Key Laboratory of Agricultural Resources and Environment, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China.


A large number of soils, worldwide, are acid (normally pH < 5.5) and suffering from on-going soil acidification. Acid soils or soils undergoing acidification generally have low fertility and low crop productivity. Biochars have been reported to be of potential value in agriculture for improving soil properties and in reducing the hazards caused by soil acidification and in naturally acidic soils. However, the ameliorant effects of biochars on acid soils and the mechanisms involved have not previously been critically reviewed. Here we summarize the phenomena, and mechanisms involved in the improvement of soil acidity by biochars, the alleviation of aluminum toxicity, the enhancement of nutrient availability, and changes in nitrification by collating data in the literature. In addition, the agronomic effectiveness and environmental concerns in the incorporation of biochar and other soil additives (i.e. lime, industrial by-products, organic wastes and plant residues) to acid soils are systemically compared. We conclude that biochar is a potentially effective amendment to reverse or to prevent acidification in acid soils. Finally, perspectives for further research in terms of soil acidification are presented to address some issues that are still poorly understood and/or highly controversial.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Soil acidity; Aluminum toxicity; Nutrient availability; Nitrification; Soil fertility.

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