The pyrolysis conversion of vegetable residues into energy and biochar, and its incorporation in agricultural soil, reduces CO2 emission and provides a longterm soil carbon sequestration. Moreover, biochar application in soil seems to increase nutrient stocks in the rooting layer, improving crop yield. Compared with the numerous studies assessing the positive effect of biochar on yield, however, little research has been published elucidating the mechanisms responsible for the reported benefits. Few studies cited soil moisture as the key factor, attributing the increased yield to the higher soil water availability.
The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of biochar on the physical and hydraulic properties of a bare Padana Plain (Cadriano, Bologna) agricultural soil. A preliminary plot experiment in 2009 explored the influence of 10 and 30 kg ha–1 of biochar on soil moisture, without effects from plants. Results of the first experiment suggested using higher biochar rates in a similar experimental scheme. During the second experiment, 30 and 60 t ha–1 doses were investigated. Soil water content, bulk density, electrical conductivity and soil water retention were measured. The comparison between treated soils and the control indicates that the biochar rate is directly correlated to electrical conductibility and inversely correlated with bulk density. The effect on the density of soil can be very positive in case of heavy soils. The dark colour of the char increased the surface temperature with respect to the control, while no differences were detected at 7·5 cm depth. No influences were found on other soil characteristics, including soil pH, moisture and water retention.