PhD Student Profile

Henry Luutu

Southern Cross University

My PhD investigates the effect of soil-applied hydrothermal carbonised wastes on plants and soil organisms. Hydrothermal carbonisation converts high moisture biomass into hydrochar, a carbon material with substantially lower energy inputs compared to pyrolysis. Hydrochar is thought to improve soil physical properties, available nutrients and is a potential material for carbon sequestration. However, results of hydrochar addition to soils are inconsistent. Positive effects are usually attributed to hydrochar’s ability to improve soil physical properties or nutrient addition while negative effects are linked to likely toxicity of hydrochar.

Therefore, using a metanalysis, pot experiments, bioassays and analytical studies, I am studying the effect and mechanism of how hydrochar affects plants and soil organisms. This study aims at informing decisions on sustainable use of hydrochar.

PhD Title: “Phytotoxicity and ecotoxicology of hydrothermal carbonisation – treated wastes.”

PhD start date: November 2021

Supervisors: Terry Rose, Southern Cross University, Shane McIntosh, Southern Cross University, Andrew Rose, Southern Cross University, Michael Rose, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Lukas Van Zwieten, NSW Department of Primary Industries

What interested you about this research?
I am passionate about waste recycling, valorisation, and the role they play in improving general soil health.

What do you love about soil?
I love soil because it provides livelihoods in the form of food and incomes to millions of the world population.

What do you love about your PhD?
I love my PhD because it seeks to offer direct solutions to real society challenges (low soil productivity, waste disposal and climate change).

How will your PhD help to make a difference for farmers?
I am developing a material (hydrochar) that is thought to improve soil productivity. Therefore, I am confident that findings from this study will be key in informing farmers’ decisions on how to optimise benefits from hydrochar.

What do you want to do when you finish your PhD?
My immediate plan after PhD is to pursue a post-doc so that I can continue with research of developing novel material for soil amendment.

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