Nutrient release by poultry litter biochars

Faculty Mentor: Jules Bruck, Julie Maresca

Research Description:

The poultry sector’s growth gives rise to specific environmental concerns such as the pollution of water with excess nutrients from manure.  It is possible to transform poultry litter (PL) through pyrolysis into biochar to immobilize nutrients that are delivered back in a slow release form.  This process has the potential to minimize environmental impacts but requires an understanding of how well the end product functions as a slow release fertilizer.  The slow-release fertilizer should be delivered to end users in an easy to use format with consistent results.  We aim to conduct several experiments to understand the rate of nutrient leaching of N and P for a range of commercially available manure-based biochars and the viability of various delivery mediums.  Students working on this project would conduct basic science experiments to help researchers develop a proof of concept. 

Research Questions:

  1. What is the rate of nutrient leaching of N and P for a range of commercially available manure-based biochars?
  2. What is the rate of fouling in permeable reactive barriers used to carry the biochar?


Student Learning Objectives:  Professional and Research Skills

This internship focuses on the development of the following professional and scientific skills.

Broad Professional Skills

Specific Skills

Planning and time management

Ability to set and complete specific goals of varying scope

Work independently

Ability to work Independently to problem solve

Collaborative skills

Ability to complete tasks efficiently and effectively with other members of the research team

Express ideas in writing and verbally

Ability to communicate with diverse audiences including the development of impactful posters and oral presentations and the delivery of scientific results/impacts to people of interdisciplinary background.

Broad Scientific Research Skills

Specific Skills

Literature analysis

Ability to effectively find and utilize scientific manuscripts related to biochar release behaviors and immobilization

Use scientific tools

Ion chromatograph, UV-vis spectrophotometer, and a few Hach reagents

Recognize simple patterns in research data

Apply soil environmental chemistry concepts to qualitative and quantitative data.

Understand, apply, and explain scientific concepts and theories

Freedom to form questions and plan methods for addressing challenges. Learn to effectively communicate results through oral presentations and manuscript writing.


Introductory experience with chemistry.


Work Environment and Expectations:

Laboratory environment:  UD Newark campus, Harker ISE Lab 4thfloor, South Campus Greenhouses. Students will work full time during the summer, June 10-August 16, 2019. Students will also participate in a communications workshop and end of internship summer research symposium.