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Common mineral could hold key to improving poor soil

Brunel academic Dr Jesus Ojeda was part of a team led by Durham’s Dr Karen Johnson who have shown a new way of improving soil health, especially in previously developed brownfield sites.

To do so the amount of carbon in the soil, preferably in a stable form needs to be boosted. This research published in Nature Commmunications looked at whether manganese oxide, which is a naturally occurring mineral, can be used to turn carbon from its unstable to stable form in soil and therefore improve its health.

Unlike unstable carbon, stable carbon can’t be used quickly as a food source by soil organisms, and instead makes the soil more able to hold water and nutrients, which in turn helps plants to grow and increases resilience to flooding.

The paper represents the first time it has been proven that manganese oxide traps and stabilises carbon. This is really exciting as it means there is a great potential for treatments using it to offer a sustainable and cost-efficient way to make unhealthy soils healthy again.

The research involved studying the interactions between manganese oxide and carbon within a clean water treatment works. This enabled the team to study these processes in great detail as the water treatment works is a simplified environment in which to work.

The team used x-rays. infraed light and thermal techniques to test and understand how the carbon changed during interaction with the manganese oxide.

"Dr Ojeda of the Experimental Techniques Centre was the part of this research team, and applied micro-infrared spectroscopy to show for the first time that carboxylate groups are involved in bridging and/or bidentate bonding on the manganese oxide surfaces as a mechanism to trap and stabilize carbon.

“This initial mechanistic understanding of the role of manganese oxides in carbon stabilisation may help in our understanding of the global carbon cycle.”