A new possibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (Science Daily)

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Biochar in Soils Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Oct. 4, 2013 — University of Tübingen microbiologists show soil microbe communities can be influenced to decrease nitrous oxide emissions.

Introducing biochar 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 greenhouse gas 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 nitrogen fertilizers. 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 greenhouse gas emissions because it stores carbon in the soil,” says Sebastian Behrens.


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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.