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Charcoal natural solution to crop fertilizer pollution, study reveals

June 11, 2019  By University of Guelph News

Charcoal may be the solution to reducing ammonia pollution and lowering greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer for crop plants, according to a groundbreaking study by a University of Guelph soil scientist.

U of G professor Adam Gillespie, along with Cornell University researcher Johannes Lehmann and other co-authors, discovered that naturally occurring charcoal in the soil could sponge up nitrogen.

Published recently in Nature Communications, the study points to a new way to create slow-release fertilizer, helping to grow more food while preventing excess nitrogen from fouling surface and groundwater.


Contained in many farm fertilizers, ammonia provides a ready source of nitrogen for plants. Human-derived ammonia emissions have grown, notably in agriculture.

Ammonia in excess fertilizer can turn to other reactive forms such as nitrates, which can foul groundwater, as well as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

The researchers made the surprising discovery that the compound binds with soil charcoal or biochar. Created when organic matter burns incompletely, as in forest fires, untold amounts of biochar are found naturally in soils worldwide. | For the full story, CLICK HERE

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