Biochar stimulates the decomposition of simple organic matter and suppresses the decomposition of complex organic matter in a sandy loam soil

Hongguang Cheng, Paul W. Hill, Mohd Saufi Bastami, Davey L. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


Incorporating crop residues and biochar has received increasing attention as tools to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and promote soil carbon (C) sequestration. However, direct comparisons between biochar, torrefied biomass, and straw on both labile and recalcitrant soil organic matter (SOM) remain poorly understood. In this study, we explored the impact of biochars produced at different temperatures and torrefied biomass on the simple C substrates (glucose, amino acids), plant residues (Lolium perenne L.), and native SOM breakdown in soil using a 14C labeling approach. Torrefied biomass and biochars produced from wheat straw at four contrasting pyrolysis temperatures (250, 350, 450, and 550 °C) were incorporated into a sandy loam soil and their impact on C turnover compared to an unamended soil or one amended with unprocessed straw. Biochar, torrefied biomass, and straw application induced a shift in the soil microbial community size, activity, and structure with the greatest effects in the straw-amended soil. In addition, they also resulted in changes in microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE) leading to more substrate C being partitioned into catabolic processes. While overall the biochar, torrefied biomass, and straw addition increased soil respiration, it reduced the turnover rate of the simple C substrates, plant residues, and native SOM and had no appreciable effect on the turnover rate of the microbial biomass. The negative SOM priming was positively correlated with biochar production temperature. We therefore ascribe the increase in soil CO2 efflux to biochar-derived C rather than that originating from SOM. In conclusion, the SOM priming magnitude is strongly influenced by both the soil organic C quality and the biochar properties. In comparison with straw, biochar has the greatest potential to promote soil C storage. However, straw and torrefied biomass may have other cobenefits which may make them more suitable as a CO2 abatement strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1110-1121
Number of pages12
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

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