Plant and Soil

, Volume 333, Issue 1–2, pp 443–452

Ethylene: potential key for biochar amendment impacts

  • Kurt A. Spokas
  • John M. Baker
  • Donald C. Reicosky
Regular Article


Significant increases in root density, crop growth and productivity have been observed following soil additions of biochar, which is a solid product from the pyrolysis of biomass. In addition, alterations in the soil microbial dynamics have been observed following biochar amendments, with decreased carbon dioxide (CO2) respiration, suppression of methane (CH4) oxidation and reduction of nitrous oxide (N2O) production. However, there has not been a full elucidation of the mechanisms behind these effects. Here we show data on ethylene production that was observed from biochar and biochar-amended soil. Ethylene is an important plant hormone as well as an inhibitor for soil microbial processes. Our current hypothesis is that the ethylene is biochar derived, with a majority of biochars exhibiting ethylene production even without soil or microbial inoculums. There was increased ethylene production from non-sterile compared to sterile soil (215%), indicating a role of soil microbes in the observed ethylene production. Production varied with different biomass sources and production conditions. These observations provide a tantalizing insight into a potential mechanism behind the biochar effects observed, particularly in light of the important role ethylene plays in plant and microbial processes.


Biochar Black carbon Charcoal Greenhouse gas 


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Copyright information

© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt A. Spokas
    • 1
    • 2
  • John M. Baker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Donald C. Reicosky
    • 3
  1. 1.United States Department of AgricultureAgriculture Research ServiceSt. PaulUSA
  2. 2.Department of Soil, Water and ClimateUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.United States Department of AgricultureAgriculture Research ServiceMorrisUSA

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