Midwestern farms use subsurface drainage to manage water on their fields. The process uses perforated conduits to remove excess water from soil, which increases crop production and promotes soil conservation. However, these drainage systems can also transport large quantities of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fields to surrounding watersheds.
ISTC researchers Wei Zheng and BK Sharma have received a $414,380 grant from the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council to develop designer biochars that will capture and recycle phosphorus from tile drainage systems. The project will run from January 1, 2019 – February 28, 2023.
The objectives of this project are to:
- create designer biochars to effectively adsorb phosphorus,
- construct refillable biochar-sorption-channels to capture phosphorus from subsurface tile drainage, and
- recycle phosphorus-captured biochars as a slow-released fertilizer.
The overall project goal is to develop a method that will minimize nutrient losses, keep phosphorus in the closed agricultural loop, and improve crop yields by enhancing nutrient use efficiency.
The research team will conduct laboratory experiments to produce designer biochars by pyrolysis of biomass pre-treated with lime sludge, evaluate their sorption capacities on phosphorus, and optimize their production conditions.
The team will also complete a field study to capture phosphorus losses from subsurface drainage systems via biochar-sorption-channels. The field study will be performed at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Research site in Fulton County. Furthermore, they will conduct a greenhouse experiment to use phosphorus-captured biochars as a slow-released fertilizer to improve crop yields.
Finally, they will perform a cost-benefit analysis and compare their technique with other best management practices (BMPs) on phosphorus removal studied at the same field location.
The successful completion of this project will offer an innovative, feasible, and cost-effective method for enhancing nutrient utilization, which will increase crop production and protect water quality in the Midwest.