Environ Technol. 2022 Aug 31:1-16. doi: 10.1080/09593330.2022.2103742. Online ahead of print.
Tropical soils are often deeply weathered and vulnerable to degradation having low pH and unfavorable Al/Fe levels, which can constrain crop production. This study aims to examine nitrogen-enriched novel biochar co-composts prepared from rice straw, maize stover, and gram residue in various mixing ratios of the biochar and their feedstock materials for the amelioration of acidic tropical soil. Three pristine biochar and six co-composts were prepared, characterized, and evaluated for improving the chemical and biological quality of the soil against a conventional lime treatment. The pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), calcium carbonate equivalence (CCE) and nitrogen content of co-composts varied between 7.78-8.86, 25.3-30.5 cmol (p+) kg-1, 25.5-30.5%, and 0.81-1.05%, respectively. The co-compost prepared from gram residue biochar mixed with maize stover at a 1:7 dry-weight ratio showed the highest rise in soil pH and CEC, giving an identical performance with the lime treatment and significantly better effect (p < .05) than the unamended control. Agglomerates of calcite and dolomite in biochar co-composts, and surface functional groups contributed to pH neutralization and increased CEC of the amended soil. The co-composts also significantly (p < .05) increased the dehydrogenase (1.87 µg TPF g-1 soil h-1), β-glucosidase (90 µg PNP g-1 soil h-1), and leucine amino peptidase (3.22 µmol MUC g-1 soil h-1) enzyme activities in the soil, thereby improving the soil’s biological quality. The results of this study are encouraging for small-scale farmers in tropical developing countries to sustainably reutilize crop residues via biochar-based co-composting technology.