Hydrochar and biochar effects on germination of spring barley

I. Bargmann*, M. C. Rillig, W. Buss, A. Kruse, M. Kuecke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Citations (Scopus)


Within the framework of climate change mitigation by sequestrating recalcitrant carbon in soil, biochar is considered as a promising soil amendment. Testing any such soil additives is vitally important, as they should not cause abiotic stress for plants due to chemical constituents they may contain. Thus, germination tests with spring barley (Hordeum vulgare) were conducted to assess phytotoxic effects of biochar, hydrochar and process-water from hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) as soil amendments. Additionally, single-component tests with substances found in process-waters were carried out with cress (Lepidium sativum). While biochars generally had no effect on germination, hydrochars and process-waters significantly inhibited germination. The dissolved organic carbon content predicted the germination-inhibiting effects observed. Three compounds resulted in partial (guaiacol) or total (levulinic acid and glycolic acid) inhibition of cress seed germination, and three others (acetic acid, glycolaldehyde dimer and catechol) had a negative impact on growth. Phytotoxic substances in chars appeared to be mostly water soluble and volatile. Pre-treatments of hydrochars and process-waters (i.e. storage and washing) were able to reduce germination inhibition. While phytotoxic substances that are generated during HTC stay in the products, biochars from kiln carbonization of the same feedstocks had no negative effects on germination, likely because volatiles evaporate during the conversion. Our study highlights the importance of comprehensively testing carbonized products for their compatibility with agricultural and horticultural systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-373
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Agronomy and Crop Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


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