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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Cadmium accumulation in soil resulting from application of biogas digestate and wood ash - Mass balance modelling

Gustafsson, Jon Petter; Affholder, Marie-Cecile; Dahlin, Sigrun


This study investigates the impact of substituting conventional NPK fertilizer with wood ash and biogas digestates at an agricultural field site in southwest Sweden. A three-year field experiment, comprising a crop rotation cycle of spring wheat, winter wheat, and oats, was conducted. The obtained results were employed to establish a dynamic mass balance model for the A horizon of the soil at the site. The Cd leaching term in the model was estimated using the Stockholm Humic model (SHM), which was recalibrated to accommodate low Cd concentrations by incorporating Cd complexation to thiol sites. The findings indicate that treatments receiving NPK fertilizer and biogas digestates experienced a net Cd loss, whereas treatments with wood ash demonstrated net Cd accumulation, attributed to its higher Cd content. Harvest yields were highest in the NPK treatment, and lower in two of the wood ash treatments, likely due to lower nitrogen additions in the latter. Cd offtake mirrored this trend, with the highest values in the NPK treatments and the lowest in the wood ash treatments, potentially also influenced by a pH difference of 0.2 units during the last year of the experiment. Geochemical modelling showed that Cd leaching is highly dependent on pH and that geochemically active soil Cd in the A horizon may have doubled between 1950 and 2002, due to elevated atmospheric deposition and fertilizer Cd during this period. Despite significant reductions in anthropogenic Cd fluxes since 2002, soil Cd has only decreased by 4%, showing the slow response of the soil pool to flux changes. Attaining a new steady-state after alterations in input fluxes will require hundreds of years. These results carry significance for determining sustainable application rates for recycled nutrient sources and underscore the crucial role of pH-dependent Cd sorption for Cd leaching.


Fertilizer; Agricultural soil; Organic complexation; Geochemical model; Organic matter

Published in

Applied Geochemistry
2024, Volume: 165, article number: 105951