Sasol biological sludge, coal fine and gasification ash were the three waste streams involved in this study. The main concern is that on their own they are not suitable as growth mediums, the ash is alkaline (pH>12) with high salinity (total dissolved solids of 8000 mg ℓ-1). Fine ash is microporous (particle size diameter <250 μm) and forms cemented layers that can restrict root growth while, gasification ash in macroporous (most particle size diameter ranged between 1 and 75 mm) and has a low water holding capacity. Sludge is unstable and can inhibit gaseous exchange. However, these wastes potentially, have physical, biological and chemical attributes that make them suitable as hospitable growth medium. Sludge can promote micro-fauna activity and, provide plant available nitrogen (N) as well as phosphorus (P) the ash is poor in. On a short term bases and in the long term it can also contribute to cation exchange capacity (CEC). Fine ash can increase water holding capacity and gasification ash can improve gaseous exchange. It was hypothesized that if the ash was treated with sludge, pH will be reduced to between 5.5 and 8, and weathering will reduce salinity to less than 400 mSm-1, increase CEC and increase plant available N and P. Therefore, the main purpose of this laboratory column study was to establish combinations of these waste streams that hold promise as plant growth media, based on various chemical and physical criteria link to hospitable plant growth media, as well as the influence of weathering on the release of essential plant nutrients. A total of 51 mixtures (each weighing 2.6 kg) were formulated based on wet mass basis and divided into 6 groups based on sludge content (0, 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50%) and packed into columns, subjected to wetting and drying for 1 year (10 wetting and drying cycles) by passing through deionized water equivalent to the pore volume and allowing the mixtures to dry in between. The leachates were analysed using Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES) and Kjeldahl procedures (for N release). Total elemental analysis was done using X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) and acid digestion method. Particle size distribution was done using the sieve method. Cation exchange properties were assessed using ammonium acetate (NH4OAc), lithium chloride (LiCl) and potassium chloride (KCl) methods. Results indicated that sludge was critical for these mixtures,at a minimal content of 10% it increased the water holding capacity of the mixtures. In the mineralization of inorganic N at a lower limit of 20% sludgeenabled the production of plant available NH4+ and NO3- and less NO2-. Increasing sludge to 50% further reduced the production of NO2- in the mixtures. In terms of elemental release, mixtures without sludge were dominated by Na and the order of abundance was as follows; Na>K>Ca>Mg>P on mmol kg-1 but the introduction of sludge at a lower content limit of 10% changed the abundance of the elements as follows; P>Mg>Ca>Na>K on mmol kg-1. Sludge content as low as 10% reduced the pH of the mixtures to between 7.6 and 8 and EC to less than 400 mSm-1. However, increasing sludge to 50% increased the leachate EC dramatically and kept the EC high (415 mSm-1) till the end. Introduction of sludge at a low limit of 10 % content increased the CEC above 8 cmolc kg-1. The effects of fine ash on the water holding capacity of the mixtures were seen at the 10 % level, for example, mixture 13 with 10% fine ash had 0.3 mg kg-1, while mixture 12 with 0% fine ash had 0.27 mg kg-1. Increasing fine ash content above 40% increased pozzalanic properties, pH (>8), EC (>400 mSm-1), Na release and reduced CEC.Gasification ash is the biggest waste stream and utilizing these wastes as growth media will mean that it realistically will always dominate these mixtures. This study showed that on its own it will be a challenging environment. However, the amendent with sludge and fine ash resulted in some chemically and physically favourable changes in these media. It can be concluded that the main objective has been achieved and bio assay evalution of theses mixtures is recommended Copyright
Dissertation (MSc(Agric))--University of Pretoria, 2012.