Pyrolysis of attapulgite clay blended with yak dung enhances pasture growth and soil health: Characterization and initial field trials
Recent studies have shown that the pyrolysis of biomass combined with clay can result in both lower cost and increase in plant yields. One of the major sources of nutrients for pasture growth, as well as fuel and building materials in Tibet is yak dung. This paper reports on the initial field testing in a pasture setting in Tibet using yak dung, biochar, and attapulgite clay/yak dung biochars produced at ratios of 10/90 and 50/50 clay to dung. We found that the treatment with attapulgite clay/yak dung (50/50) biochar resulted in the highest pasture yields and grass nutrition quality. We also measured the properties and yields of mixtures of clay/yak dung biochar used in the field trials produced at 400 °C and 500 °C to help determine a possible optimum final pyrolysis temperature and dung/clay ratio. It was observed that increasing clay content increased carbon stability, overall biochar yield, pore size, carboxyl and ketone/aldehyde functional groups, hematite and ferrous/ferric sulphate/thiosulphate concentration, surface area and magnetic moment. Decreasing clay content resulted in higher pH, CEC, N content and an enhanced ability to accept and donate electrons. The resulting properties were a complex function of both processing temperature and the percentage of clay for the biochars processed at both 400 °C and 500 °C. It is possible that the increase in yield and nutrient uptake in the field trial is related to the higher concentration of C/O functional groups, higher surface area and pore volume and higher content of Fe/O/S nanoparticles of multiple oxidation state in the 50/50 clay/dung. These properties have been found to significantly increase the abundance of beneficial microorganisms and hence improve the nutrient cycling and availability in soil. Further field trials are required to determine the optimum pyrolysis production conditions and application rate on the abundance of beneficial microorganisms, yields and nutrient quality.