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The Characterization of Volatile Matter Content in Charcoal and its Implication for Soil Fertility

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Title:The Characterization of Volatile Matter Content in Charcoal and its Implication for Soil Fertility
Authors:Mcclellan, Tai
Date Issued:2010
Abstract:We conducted laboratory studies to characterize the volatile matter (VM) content of charcoals and related differences in charcoal VM content to key aspects of soil fertility. In the first study, we characterized charcoals with varying VM contents and feedstocks using fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and determined the chemical composition of the acetone-extractable fraction of charcoals using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and total phenol content (Prussian Blue). We found the VM content of charcoal primarily consisted of alkyl carbons, oxygen-substituted carbons, and phenolic compounds. However, the GC-MS data indicated that charcoals can differ vastly in their extractable fraction, depending upon both VM content and feedstock. In a second set of experiments, we examined the effect of VM content and feedstock on soil microbial activity, nitrogen, and soluble carbon. High VM corncob charcoals significantly enhanced microbial activity, coupled with net reduction in nitrogen and soluble carbon. For a given feedstock, the extent of this effect was dependent upon VM content. The effect on microbial dynamics was apparently related to the acetone-extractable fraction of charcoal. The removal of the fraction from charcoal decreased its effect on microbial activity, while the addition to fungal inoculum increased its growth and activity. In our third experiment, we incubated charcoals and charcoal/soil mixtures and developed charge fingerprints. We found that high VM charcoals developed net negative charge upon aging, whereas the low VM charcoal did not. However, the addition of high VM charcoals did not result in substantial improvement in soil CEC. While we showed that VM content and feedstock influence charcoal behavior in soil, further research is needed to better characterize VM and its variation with feedstock in order to understand its effect on chemical composition and charge properties.
Appears in Collections: M.S. - Horticulture

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