Sunday, June 7, 2009

Effects of biosolids application on N mineralization

Sewage sludge is the solid, semi-solid or liquid residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage. Biosolids are the treated form of sewage sludge. The use of biosolids as soil amendments is widely seen as a way to reduce the accumulation of wastes and at the same time to enhance soil fertility for crop production. Studies have shown that the use of biosolids as soil amendment is an effective means of recovering plant nutrients and improving the physical and microbiological properties of soils.

However, there are problems associated with the use of biosolids such as heavy metal contamination and nitrate pollution. Biosolids containing excessive levels of heavy metals should not be used as soil amendments. As for nitrate pollution due to excessive mineralization, Hseu and Huang (2005) proposed that this maybe avoided by regulating the annual rate of application of biosolids to soil based on crop N requirement and the anticipated net amount of organic N mineralized in the soil treated with biosolids.

In an interesting study aimed to characterize the influence of the application of biosolids on the soil potential for N mineralization (N0) and also to elucidate the kinetics of N mineralization in tropical soils treated with different biosolids, Hseu and Huang (2005) used anaerobic biosolids and aerobic biosolids obtained from the wastewater treatment plants in Kaohsiung and Taipei, Taiwan. The biosolids were applied at rates of 10, 50 and 100 Mg ha−1 to three tropical soils and incubated for 48 weeks.

Findings of the study revealed that addition of both kinds of biosolids to the soil increased N mineralization potential to an extent related directly to the application rate and the N content of the biosolids. However, the cumulative amounts of N mineralized for soil treated with aerobic biosolids greatly exceeded those for the soil treated with anaerobic biosolids. Sandy soil treated with biosolids exhibited a relatively low potential for mineralizing N.

The contamination of the biosolids with relatively high levels of heavy metals such as Cu and Zn did not prevent an increase in N mineralization resulting from the application of biosolids to the soils. Approximately 3–34% of the total N content in the biosolids-treated soils was mineralized for 48-week incubation. Based on a demand of 150 kg N ha−1 for vegetable production in Taiwanese soils, the rate of biosolids application in the three soils are safe and will not cause nitrate accumulation.


Hseu ZY and CC Huang. 2005. Nitrogen mineralization potentials in three tropical soils treated with biosolids. Chemosphere 59: 447-454.

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