Does biochar affect soil wettability and flow pattern?

Zhipeng Liu, Felix Abayomi Ogunmokun, Rony Wallach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Despite the known benefits of biochar application to soils, little is known about its effect on soil wettability and the consequences on soil water movement across the soil profile. Focusing on the latter, three types of commercial biochar derived from wheat, corn, and rice straw produced under low temperature (350–450 ℃) were mixed with a wettable sandy soil at rates of 0%, 2%, 5%, and 10% w/w. Soil water repellency (SWR) of the biochars and biochar–soil mixtures was determined by water drop penetration time (WDPT) test and sessile-drop contact angle (CA) measurement. The WDPT results (< 5 s) showed complete wettability for the biochar–soil mixtures, whereas CA results indicated some water repellency. The mean initial CA of the three biochars varied between 105.3° and 113.9°, with ∼ 30° for the pure sand, and between 56.8° and 75.7° for the biochar–soil mixtures. SWR increased with biochar-application rate, whereas biochar particle size (< 1 mm and > 1 mm) had no significant effects on SWR. A 2-D flow chamber experiment with point source water application at the surface was used to continuously monitor the flow pattern and soil water content (SWC) distribution across the soil profile during infiltration and redistribution periods. Biochar–soil mixtures (2% and 5% w/w) with the three biochar types were studied. Flow chamber results showed substantial differences in plumes shape and internal SWC distribution in the biochar–soil mixtures compared to the untreated sand during the wetting and drainage. The plumes' shape and nonmonotonic spatial SWC distribution suggested unstable flow in the biochar–soil mixtures. The internal fingers developed in the biochar treated sand indicate that SWR induced by biochar addition seemed to be physically induced via the blending of the biochar and soil particles, rather than chemically induced, via coating of the soil particles with amphiphilic molecules. Under field conditions, the primary and inner finger-like plumes may eventually form preferential flow paths that will affect the spatial distribution of water and fertilizer in soil profiles and their availability to plant roots.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number115826
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2022

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  • Biochar
  • Biochar–soil mixture
  • Non-zero contact angle
  • Unstable flow
  • Water repellency


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