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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section: Environmental Benefits of Biochar

Biochar and Earthworm Effects on Soil Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide Emissions


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 4, p. 1203-1209
    Received: Mar 31, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): claudia.kammann@uni-giessen.de
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  1. Cara A. Augustenborga,
  2. Simone Heppa,
  3. Claudia Kammann *ab,
  4. David Haganc,
  5. Olaf Schmidtd and
  6. Christoph Müllerab
  1. a School of Biology and Environmental Science, Agriculture and Food Science Centre, Univ. College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
    b Dep. of Plant Ecology, Justus-Liebig-Univ., Heinrich-Buff-Ring 26-32, D-35392 Giessen, Germany
    c The Glenside Group, Block 2, Unit 4, Bandeath Industrial Estate, Throsk, Stirling, FK7 7XY, Scotland
    d School of Agriculture, Food Science, and Veterinary Medicine, Univ. College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Assigned to Associate Editor James Ippolito


Biochar is the product of pyrolysis produced from feedstock of biological origin. Due to its aromatic structure and long residence time, biochar may enable long-term carbon sequestration. At the same time, biochar has the potential to improve soil fertility and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from soils. However, the effect of biochar application on GHG fluxes from soil must be investigated before recommendations for field-scale biochar application can be made. A laboratory experiment was designed to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from two Irish soils with the addition of two different biochars, along with endogeic (soil-feeding) earthworms and ammonium sulfate, to assist in the overall evaluation of biochar as a GHG-mitigation tool. A significant reduction in N2O emissions was observed from both low and high organic matter soils when biochars were applied at rates of 4% (w/w). Earthworms significantly increased N2O fluxes in low and high organic matter soils more than 12.6-fold and 7.8-fold, respectively. The large increase in soil N2O emissions in the presence of earthworms was significantly reduced by the addition of both biochars. Miscanthus biochar reduced the large earthworm emissions by 91 and 95% in the low organic matter soil and by 56 and 61% in the high organic matter soil (with and without N fertilization), respectively. With peanut hull biochar, the earthworm emissions reduction was 80 and 70% in the low organic matter soil, and only 20 and 10% in the high organic matter soil (with and without N fertilization), respectively. In high organic matter soil, both biochars reduced CO2 efflux in the absence of earthworms. However, soil CO2 efflux increased when peanut hull biochar was applied in the presence of earthworms. This study demonstrated that biochar can potentially reduce earthworm-enhanced soil N2O and CO2 emissions. Hence, biochar application combined with endogeic earthworm activity did not reveal unknown risks for GHG emissions at the pot scale, but field-scale experiments are required to confirm this.

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