Wood ash use in forestry – a review of the environmental impacts
Author: Pitman, Rona M.
Source: Forestry, Volume 79, Number 5, December 2006 , pp. 563-588(26)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Abstract:The use of wood fuel for energy production in the UK is set to increase in the near future as part of a government commitment to increase renewable sources to 10 per cent by 2010. The ash generated as a by-product of combustion, whether for heat or power generation, has potential use as a fertilizer in forest systems. This review assesses the available information on factors affecting the quality of the ash and environmental implications arising from its application. The key determinants of wood ash chemistry are the tree species combusted, the nature of the burn process and the conditions at the application site. Wood ash from hardwood species produces higher levels of macronutrients in their ash than conifers, and the silica content is frequently lower. A furnace temperature between 500 and 900°C is critical to the retention of nutrients, particularly potassium, and determines the concentrations of potentially toxic metals including aluminium in the ash. Fly ash, the lightest component that accumulates in the flue system, can contain high concentrations of cadmium, copper, chromium, lead and arsenic and this ash should not be used as fertilizer. The form of the ash at application is important, with loose ash releasing Ca, K and Na more rapidly than granulated ash. Heavy metal, radionuclide and dioxin contamination of wood ash-based fertilizers is minimal and unlikely to affect ecosystem function. The effects of wood ash are primarily governed by application rate and soil type. The benefits are maximized at low dose rates, with possible toxicity from applications in excess of 10 t ha−1. For most forest sites, a single wood ash application per rotation could replace all the nutrients lost after whole-tree harvesting (excepting N). Long-lasting positive effects on tree growth have been observed on shallow peats, in which the humus is slowly mineralized in response to elevated pH and increased nutrient availability. In contrast, wood ash application to podzols is only effective in enhancing tree growth when nitrogen availability is non-limiting. To date, published research of wood ash effects on trees growing in clays and loams is minimal. A lag time for positive tree responses to wood ash application is often observed, and may be the result of phosphorous limitation at higher soil pH. The greatest reported adverse ecological effects are to acidophilic ecosystems, particularly the constituent bryophyte, soil bacteria and ectomycorrhizal communities.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2006-12-01
- Forestry publishes refereed papers on all aspects of research, practice and policy that promote the sustainable development of forests, woodlands and trees. In considering suitability for publication attention is given to both the originality of contributions and their practical application. Preference is usually given to work undertaken in the temperate and/or boreal zones; only articles of exceptional merit from tropical zones will also be considered.