Biochar in soils cuts greenhouse gas emissions

Oct 07, 2013

University of Tübingen microbiologists show soil microbe communities can be influenced to decrease nitrous oxide emissions.

Introducing into agricultural soils changes the composition and activity of microorganisms in a way that emissions of nitrous oxide – also known as laughing gas (N2O) – are significantly reduced, according to researchers Johannes Harter and Hans-Martin Krause. Their study was supervised by environmental microbiologist Dr. Sebastian Behrens and geomicrobiologist Professor Andreas Kappler of the Center for Applied Geosciences at the University of Tübingen in cooperation with researchers from the University of Hohenheim. The results are important not only for a sustainable, more effective use of nitrogen fertilizers; they also present a new possibility for reducing emissions worldwide.

Biochar is produced by high-temperature thermochemical decomposition of organic material, a process known as pyrolysis. Unlike charcoal, which is primarily used to produce heat, biochar is used as a soil supplement in agriculture. Nitrous oxide is produced by nitrogen-transforming microorganisms in the soil, and these emissions increase with the use of . Biochar's surface properties prevent nutrients from being washed out of poor soils. It also positively influences the abundance, composition, and activity of microorganisms in the soil, which form complex biological communities involving plants and animals. "Soil biochar amendment helps to raise water storage capacity and decrease soil nutrient leaching, which in turn increases soil fertility and can help to reduce because it stores carbon in the soil," says Sebastian Behrens.

Indigenous peoples in tropical zones of South America and Africa were aware of biochar's positive effect on and plant growth thousands of years ago. The current study underlines the importance of biochar research – because biochar not only has the potential to open profitable new markets for agriculture and industry, it also provides data important to the protection of soils and the climate.

The results are also important in the light of the recently-released 5th Assessment Report, in which the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that concentrations of the greenhouse gases CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have risen by 40%, 150% and 20%, respectively since 1750 because of human activity. The main source of nitrous oxide is agriculture (84%). It is therefore of great economic and environmental importance to find strategies to reduce emission while making nitrogen fertilizer use sustainable – and maintaining crop yields.

Explore further: Pilot study reveals new findings about microplastics in wastewater

More information: Harter, J. et al. (2013) Linking N2O emissions from biochar-amended soil to the structure and function of the N-cycling microbial community, ISME Journal. www.nature.com/ismej/journal/v… s/ismej2013160a.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Biochar reduces nasty nitrous oxide emissions on farms

Apr 29, 2013

(Phys.org) —In the quest to decrease the world's greenhouse gases, Cornell scientists have discovered that biochar – a charcoal-like substance – reduces the nemesis nitrous oxide from agricultural soil ...

Can biochar help suppress greenhouse gases?

Apr 20, 2011

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a precursor to compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone. Intensively managed, grazed pastures are responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide emissions from grazing ...

Can biochar help suppress greenhouse gases?

Mar 18, 2011

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a precursor to compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone. Intensively managed, grazed pastures are responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide ...

Is biochar the answer for ag?

Aug 02, 2010

Scientists demonstrate that biochar, a type charcoal applied to soils in order to capture and store carbon, can reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, and inorganic nitrogen runoff from agriculture settings. ...

Greenhouse gases from farmland underestimated

Apr 02, 2013

(Phys.org)—Changes in agricultural practices could reduce soil emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and the atmospheric pollutant nitric oxide, according to a new study by scientists at the University of California, ...

Recommended for you

Bladderwrack: Tougher than suspected

49 minutes ago

The bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosus is actually one of the most important species of brown algae along the North Atlantic coasts. But for years their populations in the Baltic Sea were declining. Looking for the reasons, biolog ...

Australia set to pay polluters to cut emissions

11 hours ago

Australia is set to approve measures giving polluters financial incentives to reduce emissions blamed for climate change, in a move critics described as ineffective environmental policy.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.