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LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Biochar

Biochar is the carbon-rich product obtained when biomass, such as wood, manure, or
leaves, is heated in a closed container with little or no available air. Technically, biochar is
produced by thermal decomposition of organic material under limited amount of oxygen (O 2)
and at relatively at low temperature which is below 700 oC. By adding biochar to agriculture soils
is to improve soil fertility and mitigate climate change. Recently, it is reported that conversion of
biomass into biochar can not only result in the renewable energy (synthetic gas and bio oil), but
also decrease the content of CO2 in the atmosphere, which shows more research on the effect
of biochar. It is proved that adding biochar into soil improves the structure and properties of soil,
such as the water-holding capacity, organic matter content, aeration condition, pH value,
cationic exchange capacity (CEC), and the formation of aggregates of soil. The leaching losses
of nitrogen and phosphorous in soil and the releases of greenhouse gases (N 2O and CH4) from
soil could be decreased in the presence of biochar. In addition, biochar has porous structure,
charged surface, and surface functional groups (such as carboxyl, hydroxyl, phenolic hydroxyl,
and carbonyl groups). These properties are the important factors that influence the migration,
transformation, and bioavailability of contaminants in soil.
2.2 Tropical Soil Acidic Condition

Acidification of soil is a natural process with major effect on plant growth. As soils
become more acid, particularly when the pH drops below 4.5. It will becomes increasingly
difficult to produce food crops. As soil pH declines, the supply of most plant nutrients decreases
while aluminum and a few micronutrients become more soluble and toxic to plants. These
problems are particularly acute in humid tropical regions that have been highly weathered.
According to Sanchez and Logan (1992), for example, one third of the tropics, or 1.7 billion
hectares, is acid enough for soluble aluminum to be toxic for most crop plants.

The fact that to the present day most acid upland soils are not used for agriculture is an
indication that it is very difficult to practice sustainable agriculture on them. Before the
introduction of chemical fertilizers and high yielding crop varieties many acid soils were
considered unsuitable for arable crops. However tree crops have been grown on them
successfully for many decades because trees represent a rather natural succession to the rain
forest, the natural cover of those soils.

Acid upland soils (Ultisols and Oxisols) of tropical Asia are, in general, inherently infertile
and AI or Mn toxic. Their shallow top soils, the Ultisols particularly are highly susceptible to
erosion. The organic matter can be easily degraded and lost by conventional land-clearing
practices including burning and direct exposure to sun and rain. If not managed properly after
clearing these soils can rapidly lose much of their original fertility and beneficial physical
properties.

At present most acid soils are still covered by primary or secondary forest. Before any
forested area is to be opened up for agricultural use, short as well as long term costs and
benefits and possible damage to the environment should be considered. In the long run, we
may need the acid soils more as a source of timber and a sink for carbon dioxide than for food
production.
2.3 Biochar Application to Soil

The methods of biochar application depend on mostly upon the purposes of applying the
biochar to soil. Based on the research, the role that biochar play in plant-soil processes which
drive the management of agriculture and the environment. The effectiveness of application of
compost, animal manures or mineral fertilizers are known to vary significantly whether they are
incorporated or surface applied and similar response can be expected to the method of biochar
application.
Agricultural productivity increase with biochar application to soil, but variability is high
and it is not yet clear under what soil and climatic condition. The type of biochar also play the
important role in its effectiveness and is itself a function of the type of feedstock and production
conditions.
Therefore, yield response are difficult to predict and global patterns need to be identified to
move toward an understanding of the crop production potential using biochar. The purpose of
applying biochar to soil mainly falls into four categories:

1. Agriculture profitability
2. Management pollution to the environment
3. Restoration of degraded land
4. Sequestration of C from atmosphere