The effect of biochar addition on N2O and CO2 emissions from a sandy loam soil - The role of soil aeration

Sean D. C. Case, Niall P. McNamara, David S. Reay, Jeanette Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Biochar application to soil has significant potential as a climate change mitigation strategy, due to its recalcitrant C content and observed effect to suppress soil greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrous oxide (N2O). Increased soil aeration following biochar amendment may contribute to this suppression.

Soil cores from a Miscanthus X. giganteus plantation were amended with hardwood biochar at a rate of 2% dry soil weight (22 t ha(-1)). The cores were incubated at three different temperatures (4,10 and 16 degrees C) for 126 days, maintained field moist and half subjected to periodic wetting events. Cumulative N2O production was consistently suppressed by at least 49% with biochar amendment within 48 h of wetting at 10 and 16 degrees C. We concluded that hardwood biochar suppressed soil N2O emissions following wetting at a range of field-relevant temperatures over four months. We hypothesised that this was due to biochar increasing soil aeration at relatively high moisture contents by increasing the water holding capacity (WHC) of the soil: however, this hypothesis was rejected.

We found that 5% and 10% biochar amendment increased soil WHC. Also, 10% biochar amendment decreased bulk density of the soil. Sealed incubations were performed with biochar added at 0-10 % of dry soil weight and wetted to a uniform 87% WHC (78% WFPS). Cumulative N2O production within 60 h of wetting was 19, 19, 73 and 98% lower than the biochar-free control in the 1, 2, 5 and 10% biochar treatments respectively. We conclude that high levels of biochar amendment may change soil physical properties, but that the enhancement of soil aeration by biochar incorporation makes only a minimal contribution to the suppression of N2O emissions from a sandy loam soil. We suggest that microbial or physical immobilisation of NO3- in soil following biochar addition may significantly contribute to the suppression of soil N2O emissions. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-134
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue numbern/a
Early online date16 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Biochar
  • Charcoal
  • Climate change
  • Water holding capacity


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