Plant and Soil

, Volume 426, Issue 1–2, pp 211–225 | Cite as

How does biochar influence soil N cycle? A meta-analysis

  • Qi Liu
  • Yanhui Zhang
  • Benjuan Liu
  • James E. Amonette
  • Zhibin Lin
  • Gang Liu
  • Per AmbusEmail author
  • Zubin XieEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aims

Modern agriculture is driving the release of excessive amounts of reactive nitrogen (N) from the soils to the environment, thereby threatening ecological balances and functions. The amendment of soils with biochar has been suggested as a promising solution to regulate the soil N cycle and reduce N effluxes. However, a comprehensive and quantitative understanding of biochar impacts on soil N cycle remains elusive.


A meta-analysis was conducted to assess the influence of biochar on different variables involved in soil N cycle using data compiled across 208 peer-reviewed studies.


On average, biochar beneficially increases symbiotic biological N2 fixation (63%), improves plant N uptake (11%), reduces soil N2O emissions (32%), and decreases soil N leaching (26%), but it poses a risk of increased soil NH3 volatilization (19%). Biochar-induced increase in soil NH3 volatilization commonly occurs in studies with soils of low buffering capacity (soil pH ≤ 5, organic carbon≤10 g kg−1, or clay texture), the application of high alkaline biochar (straw- or manure-derived biochar), or biochar at high application rate (>40 t ha−1). Besides, if the pyrolytic syngas is not purified, the biochar production process may be a potential source of N2O and NOx emissions which correspond to 2–4% and 3–24% of the feedstock-N, respectively.


This study suggests that to make biochar beneficial for decreasing soil N effluxes, clean advanced pyrolysis technique and adapted use of biochar are of great importance.


Biochar Soil properties Nitrogen cycle Meta-analysis 



We gratefully acknowledge support for this research from the Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. NFSC-41171191), Special Project on Agricultural Science and Technology (201503137), Special Project on the Basis of National Science and Technology of China: National Survey of Biological Nitrogen Fixation Resources in Paddies of China (2015FY110700),the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation for financial support to Sino-Danish cooperation on biochar as a tool to mitigate climate change (No 1370-00036B), the Science and Technology Supporting Project of China (2013BAD11B01), and the Science and Technology Supporting Project of Jiangsu Province (BE2013451), and Blue Moon Fund USA.

Supplementary material

11104_2018_3619_MOESM1_ESM.docx (325 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 325 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qi Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yanhui Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Benjuan Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • James E. Amonette
    • 3
    • 4
  • Zhibin Lin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gang Liu
    • 1
  • Per Ambus
    • 5
    Email author
  • Zubin Xie
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Physical Sciences Division, Pacific Northwest National LaboratoryWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Center for Sustaining Agriculture & Natural ResourcesWashington State UniversityWashingtonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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