Hydrochar is a new carbonaceous product obtained via hydrothermal carbonization of wet biomass, such as sludges or digested sludges, which often have disposal problems, also due to the presence of contaminants such as heavy metals. The properties of the hydrochar led to an interest in using it as an amendment, but the agro-environmental properties must be considered for its safe use. Raw hydrochar produced by agro-industrial digestate and relative three acidic post-treated hydrochars (for heavy metals removal) have been assessed considering their effect on phytotoxicity, soil, plant growth, mutagenicity, and genotoxicity. The chemical characterization showed the effect of post-treatment on heavy metals contents reduction, except for Cu content (hydrochar, 650 mg/kg; post-treated hydrochars, 940 mg/kg, 287 mg/kg, and 420 mg/kg). The acidic post-treatment also reduces the phytotoxicity compared to raw hydrochar (the germination index at 16 % of hydrochar concentration was: hydrochar, 61.48 %; post-treated hydrochars, 82.27 %, 58.28 %, and 82.26 %), but the low pH and the impact on N-cycle probably have caused the detrimental effect on plant growth of post-treated hydrochar. No mutagenic activity was observed in bacteria using Ames test, while all the samples induced chromosomal aberrations in plant cells (Allium cepa test). The approach adopted, which considers phytotoxicity, plant growth-soil effects, and mutagenicity/genotoxicity bioassays has been proven effective for a proper evaluation of organic products derived from waste to promote a sustainable and circular recovery of materials.
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