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Biochar Carbon Stability in a Clayey Soil As a Function of Feedstock and Pyrolysis Temperature

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journal contribution
posted on 06.11.2012, 00:00 by Bhupinder Pal Singh, Annette L. Cowie, Ronald J. Smernik
The stability of biochar carbon (C) is the major determinant of its value for long-term C sequestration in soil. A long-term (5 year) laboratory experiment was conducted under controlled conditions using 11 biochars made from five C3 biomass feedstocks (Eucalyptus saligna wood and leaves, papermill sludge, poultry litter, cow manure) at 400 and/or 550 °C. The biochars were incubated in a vertisol containing organic C from a predominantly C4-vegetation source, and total CO2–C and associated δ13C were periodically measured. Between 0.5% and 8.9% of the biochar C was mineralized over 5 years. The C in manure-based biochars mineralized faster than that in plant-based biochars, and C in 400 °C biochars mineralized faster than that in corresponding 550 °C biochars. The estimated mean residence time (MRT) of C in biochars varied between 90 and 1600 years. These are conservative estimates because they represent MRT of relatively labile and intermediate-stability biochar C components. Furthermore, biochar C MRT is likely to be higher under field conditions of lower moisture, lower temperatures or nutrient availability constraints. Strong relationships of biochar C stability with the initial proportion of nonaromatic C and degree of aromatic C condensation in biochar support the use of these properties to predict biochar C stability in soil.