The priming potential of biochar products in relation to labile carbon contents and soil organic matter status

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Abstract

Recognition of biochar as a potential tool for long-term carbon sequestration with additional agronomic benefits is growing. However, the functionality of biochar in soil and the response of soils to biochar inputs are poorly understood. It has been suggested, for example, that biochar additions to soils could prime for the loss of native organic carbon, undermining its sequestration potential. This work examines the priming potential of biochar in the context of its own labile fraction and procedures for their assessment. A systematic set of biochar samples produced from C4 plant biomass under a range of pyrolysis process conditions were incubated in a C3 soil at three discrete levels of organic matter status (a result of contrasting long-term land management on a single site). The biochar samples were characterised for labile carbon content ex-situ and then added to each soil. Priming potential was determined by a comparison of CO2 flux rates and its isotopic analysis for attribution of source. The results conclusively showed that while carbon mineralisation was often higher in biochar amended soil, this was due to rapid utilisation of a small labile component of biochar and that biochar did not prime for the loss of native organic soil organic matter. Furthermore, in some cases negative priming occurred, with lower carbon mineralisation in biochar amended soil, probably as a result of the stabilisation of labile soil carbon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2127-2134
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Volume43
Issue number10
Early online date6 Jul 2011
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011

Keywords

  • Biochar
  • Priming
  • Soil organic carbon

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