Biochar application for the remediation of heavy metal polluted land: A review of in situ field trials

David O'Connor, Tianyue Peng, Junli Zhang, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Daniel S. Alessi, Zhengtao Shen, Nanthi S. Bolan, Deyi Hou

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

452 Citations (Scopus)


Polluted land is a global issue, especially for developing countries. It has been reported that soil amendment with biochar may reduce the bioavailability of a wide range of contaminants, including heavy metal(loids), potentially reclaiming contaminated soils for agricultural use. However, there have been only limited reports on the in situ application of biochar at the field scale. This review was devoted to providing preliminary scientific evidence from these field trials, based on a review of 29 publications involving field applications of biochar in 8 different countries. The data show that biochar's effectiveness in reducing the impacts of pollution depends on a myriad of factors in the field, including the application time period, site-specific factors (e.g. climate, biochar dosage rate, and mixing depth), biochar feedstock type, and biochar properties. The results of this review indicate that biochar application can potentially reduce contaminant bioavailability in the field; for instance, a significant decrease (control normalized mean value = 0.55) in the Cd enrichment of rice crops was observed. It was found that the use of biochar may help increase crop yields on polluted land, and thus reduce the amount of mineral fertilizer used in the field. However, in order to maximize the benefits of biochar addition, farmers need to accept that the dosage rates of mineral fertilizers should be reduced. This review also revealed that the effectiveness of biochar in mitigating pollution may decrease with time due to ageing factors, such as leaching of biochar alkalinity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-826
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Bioavailability
  • Cadmium
  • Contaminated
  • Heavy metals
  • Review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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