Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 10, pp 9683–9696 | Cite as

An assessment of emergy, energy, and cost-benefits of grain production over 6 years following a biochar amendment in a rice paddy from China

  • Lei Wang
  • Lianqing Li
  • Kun Cheng
  • Chunying Ji
  • Qian Yue
  • Rongjun Bian
  • Genxing Pan
Research Article


Biochar soil amendment had been increasingly advocated for improving crop productivity and reducing carbon footprint in agriculture worldwide. However, the long-term benefits of biochar application with farming systems had not been thoroughly understood. This study quantified and assessed emergy, energy, and economic benefits of rice and wheat production throughout 6 rotation years following a single biochar amendment in a rice paddy from Southeastern China. Using the data from farm inventory, the quantified emergy indices included grain outputs, unit emergy value, and relative percentage of free renewable resources, environmental loading ratio, emergy yield ratio, and emergy sustainability index (ESI). The results indicated contrasting differences in these emergy values between biochar-amended and unamended production systems over the 6 years. The overall emergy efficiency of rice and wheat productions in biochar-amended system were higher by 11–28 and 15–47%, respectively, than that of unamended one of which the production being highly resource intensive. Moreover, ESI on average was 0.46 for rice and 0.63 for wheat in amended system, compared to 0.35 for rice and 0.39 for wheat in unamended one. Furthermore, over the 6 years following a single application, the ESI values showed considerable variation in the unamended system but consistently increasing in the amended system. Again, the biochar-amended system exerted significantly higher energy and economic return than the unamended one. Nonetheless, there was a tradeoff between rice and wheat in grain yield and net economic gain. Overall, biochar amendment could be a viable measure to improve the resilience of grain production while to reduce resource intensity and environment impacts in paddy soil from China.


Biochar soil amendment Emergy analysis Field experiment Rice paddy Rice and wheat production Ecological benefits Resource efficiency 



This work was financially supported by the China Natural Science Foundation under grant numbers 41371298 and 41501569. This work was also supported by the Department of Science and Technology of Jiangsu Province under grant number BK20150684 and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD).Thanks to the two anonymous referee for their kind reviews and constructive comments for improving the manuscript quality. The authors are also grateful for the colleagues who performed the field experiment in many aspects.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_1245_MOESM1_ESM.docx (63 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 63 kb)
11356_2018_1245_MOESM2_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 30 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lei Wang
    • 1
  • Lianqing Li
    • 1
  • Kun Cheng
    • 1
  • Chunying Ji
    • 1
  • Qian Yue
    • 1
  • Rongjun Bian
    • 1
  • Genxing Pan
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Resource, Ecosystem and Environment of Agriculture, and Center of Agriculture and Climate ChangeNanjing Agricultural UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Resource, Ecosystem and Environment of Agriculture, and Center of Biochar and Green AgricultureNanjing Agricultural UniversityNanjingChina

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