Pyrolysis biochar has negligible effects on soil greenhouse gas production, microbial communities, plant germination, and initial seedling growth.


Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


Biochar has been promoted as a soil amendment that enhances soil quality and agronomic productivity and reduces greenhouse gas production. However, these benefits are not always realized. A major hurdle to the beneficial use of biochar is our limited knowledge regarding the mechanisms directing its effects on soil systems. This project aimed to eliminate some of this uncertainty by examining the biological responses (plant productivity, greenhouse gas production, soil microbial community structure) of a suite of soils (10) to the addition of biochars produced by different processes (pyrolysis, gasification, burning) from a range of feedstocks (corn stalks, hardwood, grass). Results indicated that these three responses were not significantly impacted by the addition of pyrolysis biochars from different feedstocks at 1 and 5% (w/w) addition levels. On the other hand, both an open-air burned corn stalk (5%) and raw corn stalks (1 and 5%) additions did alter the measured soil functionality. For example, the 5% burnt corn stalks addition reduced total above ground plant biomass (∼30%), increased observed N2O production by an order of magnitude, and altered soil bacterial community structure. The bacterial groups that increased in relative abundance in the burnt corn stalks-amended soils included families associated with cellulose decomposition (Chitinophagaceae), plant pathogens (Xanthomonadaceae), and biochar/charcoal-amended media (Gemmatimonadetes). In contrast, the abundance of these bacterial groups was not impacted by the pyrolysis biochars. Therefore, this research suggests that pyrolysis biochar represents a stabilized form of carbon that is resistant to microbial mineralization and has negligible effects on soil biological responses.


Agricultural soils,Biochar,Corn,Microorganisms,Nitrous oxide,