Bioavailability of heavy metals to urban agricultural food and biofuel crops and their remediation potential

Marta Crispo

The project

More than half the world’s population live in urban areas. Consequently, urban areas are drivers of global change and there is heavy reliance on imported food and energy. Increasing sustainable own-grown food and biofuel production in urban areas could reduce this environmental impact.

Urban soils can contain high concentrations of heavy metals which may pose a risk to human health if used for food production. However, these heavy metals often co-occur with black carbon, a suite of molecules ranging from soots to biochar, reducing the pollutant bioavailability.

Thus, this project will address two key questions:

◊ How does soil black carbon affect the availability of heavy metals to own-grown food crops?

◊ What is the potential of short rotation coppice willow, a biofuel crop, to remediate contaminated urban soil?

Coppice willow has been proposed as a sustainable way to remediate contaminated soils as it naturally accumulates heavy metals. This presents the opportunity to simultaneously remediate urban land unsuitable for food production, whilst producing a biofuel. Moreover, biochar, which can be produced when short rotation coppice is used as a feedstock for energy production, has the potential to reduce pollutant bioavailability.

This project will establish an own-growing and short rotation coppice experiment in an urban allotment site, working with our collaborative partners Leicester City Council.

Outreach and impact

a poster for the Time Is Now march which reads there is no planet bMarta is part of the MyHarvest team. And she is a Student Commissioner at EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education).

In June 2019 a group of Grantham Scholars went to the Time Is Now protests in London, where they met with Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield. Marta was one of them and she explained why she went in this interview. Read: The Time Is Now: Grantham Scholars at ‘mass lobby’



Dr Jill Edmondson

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences


Dr Manoj Menon

Department of Geography

Dr Janice Lake

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences