South Africa is a country with very little prime farmland. A large percentage of this high agricultural capability land is generally acidic and nutrient poor, and situated in areas where large coal mining activities occur. Coal mining and agriculture are important industries in South Africa. They impact extensive land areas, and often compete for the same land. The surface mining of coal seriously damages the surface soil, local flora and fauna. Mining wastes viz. overburden, discards and mine effluents, have also created land degradation problems. Three of the most common factors that characterize degraded substrates are soil acidification, nutrient depletion and loss of biological activity. To ensure a healthy and productive vegetation, disturbed soils need to be ameliorated effectively. Using conventional methods is costly and is often not sustainable. The challenge is, therefore, to use potential alternative ameliorants in an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable manner. Fortunately, South Africa has plenty of industrial and organic by-products, which might be used as alternative ameliorants. There is an enormous amount of international literature on the use of class C fly ash, (Sub bitumious or lignite CCB – [Coal combustion byproduct]), and to a lesser extent class F fly ash (Bitumious CCB), as opposed to South African class F fly ash, which is predominantly produced in this country. Fly ash, either by itself, or together with other wastes such as biosolids, can serve as a soil ameliorant by providing a good source of micro-, macronutrients and organic material for the reclamation of land. Previous research has shown that when sewage sludge is mixed with class F fly ash and a suitable source of reactive lime in a specific ratio, sewage sludge pasteurization will occur. The SLudgeASH (SLASH) mixture has been extensively evaluated as a soil ameliorant and has proven to be viable for the reclamation of poor and marginal soils. This study, has focused on the effect of soil ameliorants on the chemical-, physical- and microbiological properties of degraded agricultural land, mine land and other mining wastes (tailings and discards) requiring rehabilitation. This study also evaluated the affects of class F fly ash and SLASH amelioration of soils and substrates on plant production and revegetation, in comparison with conventional liming and fertilization methods currently in use. Species such as maize (Zea mays) and wheat (Triticum aestivum); pasture legumes such as lucerne or alfalfa (Medicago sativa); sub tropical grasses such as Foxtail Buffalo grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), Rhodegrass (Chloris gayana) and Smutsfinger grass (Digitaria erianthra) have been evaluated. The success of enhanced plant production, re- vegetation and sustainability of once degraded soils / substrates is an indication of the amelioration success achieved. Seed germination, root development, plant yield, plant density, botanical diversity and biological activity are parameters which can all be used to support the conclusion that alternative substrate amendment practices can improve the plant growth medium. Based on the results obtained in this study, it was concluded that fly ash and fly ash/organic material mixtures (SLASH) improved soil chemical properties such as pH, ammonium acetate extractable K, Ca, Mg and Bray 1 extractable P levels. All parameters measured were significantly influenced by the fly ash and SLASH. For example, the pH of soils impacted by acid mine drainage was improved by 240% by the use of SLASH. Other results illustrate improvements in soil physical properties such as texture, bulk density, water infiltration rate and hydraulic conductivity, by class F fly ash based soil ameliorants. In addition to the beneficial effects on soil physical properties, the microbial properties were also improved, as indicated by the beneficiation of symbiotic relationship of the Rhizobium bacteria and the important host plant Medicago sativa. Improvements in crop yields, such as: wheat yields on SLASH and fly ash treatments were 270% and 150% better than the control respectively; yields of maize and alfalfa were improved by 130 % and 450% respectively, were also registered. Fly ash and SLASH ameliorated soils resulted in approximately 850%, 266% and 110% higher dry matter production on gold mine tailings, AMD impacted soil and acidic mine cover soil, respectively, relative to the control treatments. Results also clearly illustrated that the abundance of certain species can be related to the higher fertility levels of the rehabilitated soil. Data collected over the past seven years, illustrates how the botanical composition has changed, and that soils receiving class F fly ash and sewage sludge had a higher dry matter production, whereas the control (no treatment) had a better biodiversity. With respect to the reclamation of coal discard materials, significant increases in yield, of up to 200%, were noted for soils and discards treated with class F fly ash, relative to the untreated control. The pH of cover soil was the most strongly affected soil parameter during the experimental period. Class F fly ash and SLASH have the potential to improve the chemical, physical and microbiological properties of degraded soils and substrates. From this experimental work it can be concluded that class F fly ash from Lethabo definitely has a much higher CaCO3 equivalent than what was originally assumed and that other SA sources probably have an even better neutralizing value. Class F fly ash and SLASH, are good sources of micronutrients and some macro nutrients, and may play a significant role in neutralizing acidity due to their residual alkalinity, and thus ability to continuously change the soil chemical balance so that nutrients become more available for plant uptake and use, thereby enhancing growth. Agricultural, domestic and industrial byproducts unfortunately, vary greatly in nutrient content, trace metals and liming potential, and these factors can affect both re-vegetation success and the environmental impact of reclamation. Co-utilization of by-products can often combine beneficial properties of the individual by-products to eventually have a more pronounced effect on the degraded soil or substrate.
Thesis (PhD(Pasture Science))--University of Pretoria, 2008.