Carbon nanomaterials are a superior soil amendment for sandy soils than biochar based on impacts on lettuce growth, physiology and soil biochemical quality

NanoImpact. 2023 Jul:31:100480. doi: 10.1016/j.impact.2023.100480. Epub 2023 Aug 23.


A significant bottleneck of current agricultural systems remains the very low agronomic efficiency of conventional agrochemicals, particularly in sandy soils. Carbon nanomaterials (CNMs) have been proposed to address this inefficiency in sandy soils, which could potentially improve soil fertility and enhance crop growth and physiological processes. However, the effects of different rates of CNMs on crop physiological and soil biochemical quality in sandy soils must be compared to other carbon sources (e.g., biochar) before CNMs can be broadly used. To address this, a 70-day pot experiment was set up, growing lettuce under ten treatments: a negative control with no CNMs, biochar or fertilizer; a fertilizer-only control; three CNMs-only unfertilized treatments (CNMs at 200, 400 and 800 mg kg-1 soil); two biochar treatments with fertilizer (biochar at 0.5% and 1% by soil mass + fertilizer); and three CNMs treatments with fertilizer (CNMs at 200, 400 and 800 mg kg-1 soil + fertilizer). A novel amorphous, water-dispersible, and carboxyl-functionalized CNMs with pH of 5.5, zeta potential of -40.6 mV and primary particle diameter of 30-60 nm was used for this experiment. Compared to the fertilizer-only control, CNMs applied at low to medium levels (200-400 mg kg-1) significantly increased lettuce shoot biomass (20-21%), total chlorophyll (23-27%), and fluorescence and photosynthetic activities (4-10%), which was associated with greater soil nutrient availability (N: 24-58%, K: 68-111%) and higher leaf tissue accumulation (N: 25-27%; K: 66%). Low to medium levels of CNMs also significantly increased soil biochemical properties, such as higher soil microbial biomass carbon (27-29%) and urease enzyme activity (34-44%) relative to fertilizer-only applications. In contrast, biochar (0.5%) increased lettuce biomass relative to fertilizer-only but had no significant effect on soil fertility and biological properties. These results suggest that CNMs at low to medium application rates are a superior carbon-based amendment relative to biochar in sandy soils.

Keywords: Carbon nanoparticles; Crop nutrition; Nano-enabled agriculture; Soil amendment; Soil fertility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon*
  • Fertilizers
  • Lactuca
  • Nanostructures*
  • Sand
  • Soil


  • biochar
  • Carbon
  • Soil
  • Sand
  • Fertilizers