Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 2405–2416 | Cite as

Mutual relationships of biochar and soil pH, CEC, and exchangeable base cations in a model laboratory experiment

  • Niguss Solomon Hailegnaw
  • Filip Mercl
  • Kateřina Pračke
  • Jiřina SzákováEmail author
  • Pavel Tlustoš
Soils, Sec 3 • Remediation and Management of Contaminated or Degraded Lands • Research Article



The majority of biochar studies use soils with only a narrow range of properties making generalizations about the effects of biochar on soils difficult. In this study, we aimed to identify soil properties that determine the performance of biochar produced at high temperature (700 °C) on soil pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and exchangeable base cation (Ca2+, K+, and Mg2+) content across a wide range of soil physicochemical properties.

Materials and methods

Ten distinct soils with varying physicochemical properties were incubated for 12 weeks with four rates of biochar application (0.5, 2, 4, and 8% w/w). Soil pH, CEC, and exchangeable base cations (Ca2+, K+, and Mg2+) were determined on the 7th and 84th day of incubation.

Results and discussion

Our results indicate that the highest biochar application rate (8%) was more effective at altering soil properties than lower biochar rates. Application of 8% biochar increased pH significantly in all incubated soils, with the increment ranging up to 1.17 pH unit. Biochar induced both an increment and a decline in soil CEC ranging up to 35.4 and 7.9%, respectively, at a biochar application rate of 8%. Similarly, biochar induced increments in exchangeable Ca2+ up to 38.6% and declines up to 11.4%, at an 8% biochar application rate. The increment in CEC and exchangeable Ca2+ content was found in soils with lower starting exchangeable Ca2+ contents than the biochar added, while decreases were observed in soils with higher exchangeable Ca2+ contents than the biochar. The original pH, CEC, exchangeable Ca2+, and texture of the soils represented the most crucial factors for determining the amount of change in soil pH, CEC, and exchangeable Ca2+ content.


Our findings clearly demonstrate that application of a uniform biochar to a range of soils under equivalent environmental conditions induced two contradicting effects on soil properties including soil CEC and exchangeable Ca2+ content. Therefore, knowledge of both biochar and soil properties will substantially improve prediction of biochar application efficiency to improve soil properties. Among important soil properties, soil exchangeable Ca2+ content is the primary factor controlling the direction of biochar-induced change in soil CEC and exchangeable Ca2+ content. Generally, biochar can induce changes in soil pH, CEC, and exchangeable Ca2+, K+, and Mg2+ with the effectiveness and magnitude of change closely related to the soil’s original properties.


Biochar CEC Exchangeable base cations (Ca2+, K+, Mg2+pH 



We would like to thank Hana Zámečníková and Zlata Holečková for their analyses of the samples. We would also like to extend our appreciation to all departmental members of Agro-Environmental Chemistry and Plant Nutrition, Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, for their unlimited suggestions and kindness to cooperate. Correction and improvement of language was provided by Ltd. Devonshire Business Centre, Works Road, Letchworth Garden City, SG6 1GJ, UK.

Funding information

This work was supported by the European Regional Development Fund—Project No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000845; the Czech Ministry of Agriculture (QK1710379); the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague (CIGA 20172015); and the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague (CIGA 21140/1313/3141).

Supplementary material

11368_2019_2264_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agro-Environmental Chemistry and Plant Nutrition, Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural ResourcesCzech University of Life Sciences PraguePrague 6 - SuchdolCzech Republic

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