Biochar, soil and land-use interactions that reduce nitrate leaching and N2O emissions: A meta-analysis

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Feb 15;651(Pt 2):2354-2364. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.060. Epub 2018 Oct 9.


Biochar can reduce both nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and nitrate (NO3-) leaching, but refining biochar's use for estimating these types of losses remains elusive. For example, biochar properties such as ash content and labile organic compounds may induce transient effects that alter N-based losses. Thus, the aim of this meta-analysis was to assess interactions between biochar-induced effects on N2O emissions and NO3- retention, regarding the duration of experiments as well as soil and land use properties. Data were compiled from 88 peer-reviewed publications resulting in 608 observations up to May 2016 and corresponding response ratios were used to perform a random effects meta-analysis, testing biochar's impact on cumulative N2O emissions, soil NO3- concentrations and leaching in temperate, semi-arid, sub-tropical, and tropical climate. The overall N2O emissions reduction was 38%, but N2O emission reductions tended to be negligible after one year. Overall, soil NO3- concentrations remained unaffected while NO3- leaching was reduced by 13% with biochar; greater leaching reductions (>26%) occurred over longer experimental times (i.e. >30 days). Biochar had the strongest N2O-emission reducing effect in paddy soils (Anthrosols) and sandy soils (Arenosols). The use of biochar reduced both N2O emissions and NO3- leaching in arable farming and horticulture, but it did not affect these losses in grasslands and perennial crops. In conclusion, the time-dependent impact on N2O emissions and NO3- leaching is a crucial factor that needs to be considered in order to develop and test resilient and sustainable biochar-based N loss mitigation strategies. Our results provide a valuable starting point for future biochar-based N loss mitigation studies.

Keywords: Denitrification; Fertilization; Land use; Nitrification; Nitrogen; Nitrous oxide; Soil organic carbon.

Publication types

  • Review