The use of wood as a sustainable biofuel results in the generation of residual wood ash. The ash contains high amounts of plant macronutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium as well as several micronutrients. To explore the potential use of wood ash as a fertiliser, the growth enhancing properties of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis Bong.) wood ash were contrasted with the potential toxic action, using common duckweed (Lemna minor L.) as a model test species. The growth of L. minor exposed to wood bottom and fly ash solids and corresponding leachates was assessed in ultra-oligotrophic and eutrophic media. Ash solids and leachates were also tested as neutralized preparations. Suspended ash solids promoted L. minor growth up to concentrations of 2.5–5g/L. Leachates promoted growth up to 10g ash equivalents per litre, but for bottom ash only. Beneficial effects of wood ash were most pronounced on ultra-oligotrophic medium. However, on such nutrient-deficient medium severe inhibition of L. minor biomass and frond growth was observed at relatively low concentrations of fly ash (EC50=14g/L). On standard, eutrophic medium, higher concentrations of fly ash (EC50=21g/L), or neutralized fly ash (EC50=37g/L) were required to impede growth. Bottom ash, or neutralized bottom ash retarded growth at concentrations of 51g/L and 74g/L (EC50), respectively, in eutrophic medium. It appears that phytotoxicity is due to the elemental composition of the ash, its alkaline character, and possible interactions between these two properties. Growth promotion was due to the substantial content of plant nutrients. This study underlines the importance of the receiving environment (nutrient status and pH) in determining the balance between toxicity and growth promotion, and shows that the margin between growth promoting and toxicity inducing concentrations can be enlarged through ash neutralization.
Science of the Total Environment – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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