The 3R Principles for Applying Biochar to Improve Soil Health

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Soil Systems

Publication Date


Date Added



Amending soil with biochar is a promising approach to persistently improve soil health and promote crop growth. The efficacy of soil biochar amendment, however, is soil specific, biochar dependent, and influenced by the biochar application programs. To maximize the benefits of biochar application, this paper proposes the 3R principles for applying biochar to soils: right biochar source, right application rate, and right placement in soil. The quality of biochar as a soil amendment varies significantly with the feedstock and the production conditions. Biochar products capable of everlastingly sustaining soil health are those with high stable organic carbon (OC) content and high water- and nutrient-holding capacities that are manufactured from uncontaminated biomass materials. Acidic, coarse-textured, highly leached soils respond remarkably more to biochar amendment than other types of soils. Soil amendment with particular biochars at as low as 0.1 mass% (equivalent to 2 Mg ha−1) may enhance the seasonal crop productivity. To achieve the evident, long-term soil health improvement effects, wood- and crop residue-derived biochars should be applied to soil at one time or cumulatively 2–5 mass% and manure-derived biochars at 1–3 mass% soil. Optimal amendment rates of particular biochar soil systems should be prescreened to ensure the pH of newly treated soils is less than 7.5 and the electrical conductivity (EC) below 2.7 dS m−1 (in 1:1 soil/water slurry). To maximize the soil health benefits while minimizing the erosion risk, biochar amendment should be implemented through broadcasting granular biochar in moistened conditions or in compost mixtures to cropland under low-wind weather followed by thorough and uniform incorporation into the 0–15 cm soil layer. Biochars are generally low in plant macronutrients and cannot serve as a major nutrient source (especially N) to plants. Combined chemical fertilization is necessary to realize the synergic beneficial effects of biochar amendment.






Environmental Sciences