Soil Research Soil Research Society
Soil, land care and environmental research
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Stability and stabilisation of biochar and green manure in soil with different organic carbon contents

Joseph M. Kimetu A B and Johannes Lehmann A C

A Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.

B Present address: Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE), Earth Sciences Building, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.

C Corresponding author. Email: CL273@cornell.edu

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(7) 577-585 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SR10036
Submitted: 2 February 2010  Accepted: 9 July 2010   Published: 28 September 2010

Abstract

Due to its recalcitrance against microbial degradation, biochar is very stable in soil compared to other organic matter additions, making its application to soils a suitable approach for the build-up of soil organic carbon (SOC). The net effects of such biochar addition also depend on its interactions with existing organic matter in soils. A study was established to investigate how the status of pre-existing soil organic matter influences biochar stabilisation in soil in comparison to labile organic additions. Carbon loss was greater in the C-rich sites (C content 58.0 g C/kg) than C-poor soils (C content 21.0–24.0 g C/kg), regardless of the quality of the applied organic resource. Biochar-applied, C-rich soil showed greater C losses, by >0.5 kg/m2.year, than biochar-applied C-poor soil, whereas the difference was only 0.1 kg/m2.year with Tithonia diversifolia green manure. Biochar application reduced the rate of CO2-C loss by 27%, and T. diversifolia increased CO2-C losses by 22% in the C-poor soils. With biochar application, a greater proportion of C (6.8 times) was found in the intra-aggregate fraction per unit C respired than with green manure, indicating a more efficient stabilisation in addition to the chemical recalcitrance of biochar. In SOC-poor soils, biochar application enriched aromatic-C, carboxyl-C, and traces of ketones and esters mainly in unprotected organic matter and within aggregates, as determined by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. In contrast, additions of T. diversifolia biomass enriched conjugated carbonyl-C such as ketones and quinones, as well as CH deformations of aliphatic-C mainly in the intra-aggregate fraction. The data indicate that not only the stability but also the stabilisation of biochar exceeds that of a labile organic matter addition such as green manure.

Additional keywords: biochar, SOC stabilisation, SOM degradation, stability.


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