Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 151–164 | Cite as

Microbial respiration of biochar- and digestate-based mixtures

  • Santanu Mukherjee
  • Lutz Weihermueller
  • Wolfgang Tappe
  • Harry Vereecken
  • Peter Burauel
Original Paper


The addition of biochar or digestate as organic amendments to soils is currently controversially discussed with regard to its positive and negative effects on C mineralization. Organic amendments are generally applied to agricultural fields to improve soil quality and crop yield. In this study, we present results from short-term respiration experiments (90 days), where two different biochars (produced at 400 and 800 °C) as well as digestate from biogas production were added in different combinations to two soils (loamy sand and silt loam). Additionally, both amendments were mixed together into the soil to study interactions between biochar and digestate effects and investigate the interactions of both amendments with clay minerals resulting in a total of 13 mixtures (plus control soils) per soil type. The results indicate that the rate of CO2 evolution was not proportional to the amount of C added to the systems indicating a saturation effect in the C degradation mechanism. More than 40 % of the digestate C was released as CO2 and only 3 % for the biochar soil mixture; the recalcitrant nature of biochar and its suitability for short-term C stabilization in soils (incubation period of 90 days) were shown. Surprisingly, a much lower CO2 release (up to 11-fold) was observed in soil/digestate/biochar compared to soil/digestate mixtures without biochar. This effect was observed even when only 1 % (w/w) biochar was added to the digestate/soil mixtures, indicating that the biochar changed the physicochemical properties of the system. Additional dissolved organic C (DOC) sorption experiments revealed that large quantities of DOC can be sorbed by the biochar reducing the microbial accessible DOC in the liquid phase and as a consequence also the CO2 production.


Biochar Digestate C degradation DOC sorption Microbial respiration 



The authors are highly thankful to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), India, for giving fund. Authors are also indebted to BASF for sponsoring the above project. Authors also express acknowledgment to Sirgit Kummer, Stephan Köppchen, Dr. Jean-Marie Séquaris, and Claudia Walraf for their immense help and suggestion.


  1. Arthurson V (2009) Closing the energy and nutrient cycles through application of biogas to agricultural land—potential benefits and drawbacks. Energies 2:226–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauer J, Weihermüller L, Huisman JA, Herbst M, Graf A, Sequaris JM, Vereecken H (2012) Inverse determination of heterotrophic soil respiration response to temperature and water content under field conditions. Biogeochemistry 108:119–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Buyanowski GA, Wagner GH (1998) Changing role of cultivated land in the global carbon cycle. Biol Fertil Soils 27:242–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cayuela ML, Sinicco T, Mondini C (2009) Mineralization dynamics and biochemical properties during initial decomposition of plant and animal residues in soil. Appl Soil Ecol 41:118–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cox L, Fernandes MC, Zsolnay A, Hermosin MC, Cornejo J (2004) Changes in dissolved organic carbon of soil amendments with aging: effect on pesticide adsorption behaviour. J Agric Food Chem 52:5635–5642CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cross A, Sohi SP (2011) The priming potential of biochar products in relation to labile carbon contents and soil organic matter status. Soil Biol Biochem 43:2127–2134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Das KC, Garcia-Perez M, Bibens B, Melear N (2008) Slow pyrolysis of poultry litter and pine woody biomass: impact of chars and bio-oils on microbial growth. J Environ Sci Health A 43:714–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Duan QY, Sorooshian S, Gupta V (1992) Effcetive and efficient global optimization for conceptual rainfall-runoff model. Water Resour Res 28:1015–1031CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Duan QY, Sorooshian S, Gupta VK (1994) Optimal use of the SCE-UA global optimization method for calibrating watershed models. J Hydrol 158:265–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Feller C, Blanchart E, Bernoux M, Lal R, Manlay R, Ollivier T (2010) Organic matter knowledge and management in soils of the tropics related to ecosystem services. In: Lal R, Stewart BA (eds) Food security and soil quality. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 241–275Google Scholar
  11. Glaser B, Lehmann J, Zech W (2002) Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal: a review. Biol Fertil Soils 35:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gunnarsson A, Bengtsson F, Caspersen S (2010) Use efficiency of nitrogen from biodigested plant material by ryegrass. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 173:113–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ismail I, Blevins RL, Frye WW (1994) Long-term no-tillage effects on soil properties and continuous corn yields. Soil Sci Soc Am J 58:193–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jin H (2010) Characterization of microbial life colonizing biochar and biochar-amended soils. PhD Dissertation, Cornell University, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  15. Joseph SD, Camps Arbestain M, Lin Y, Munroe P, Chia CH, Hook J, Van Zwieten L, Kimber S, Cowie A, Singh BP, Lehmann J, Foidl N, Smernik RJ, Amonette JE (2010) An investigation into the reactions of biochar in soil. Aust J Soil Res 48:501–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kasteel R, Mboh CM, Unold M, Groeneweg J, Vanderborght J, Vereecken H (2010) Transformation and sorption of the veterinary antibiotic sulfadiazine in two soils: a short-term batch study. Environ Sci Technol 44:4651–4657CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Keith A, Singh B, Singh BP (2011) Interactive priming of biochar and labile organic matter mineralization in a smectite-rich soil. Environ Sci Technol 45:9611–9618CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Kuzyakov Y, Subbotina I, Chen HQ, Bogomolova I, Xu XL (2009) Black carbon decomposition and incorporation into soil microbial biomass estimated by C-14 labeling. Soil Biol Biochem 41:210–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lal R (2009) Sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. CRC Crit Rev Plant Sci 28:90–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Leenheer JA, Croue JP (2003) Characterizing aquatic dissolved organic matter. Environ Sci Technol 37:18–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Liang B, Lehmann J, Solomon D, Sohi S, Thies JE, Skjemstad JO, Luizao FJ, Engelhard MH, Neves EG, Wirick S (2008) Stability of biomass-derived black carbon in soils. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 72:6069–6078CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liang B, Lehmann J, Sohi SP, Thies JE, O’Neill B, Trujillo L, Gaunt J, Solomon D, Grossman J, Neves EG, Luizão FJ (2010) Black carbon affects the cycling of non-black carbon in soil. Org Geochem 41:206–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Liu Y (1998) Energy uncoupling in microbial growth under substrate-sufficient conditions. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 49:500–505CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marchetti R, Castelli F (2013) Biochar from swine solids and digestate influence nutrient dynamics and carbon dioxide release in soil. J Environ Qual 42:893–901CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Marschner B, Kalbitz K (2003) Controls of bioavailability and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter in soils. Geoderma 113:211–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Marschner B, Noble AD (2000) Chemical and biological processes leading to the neutralization of soil acidity after incubation with different litter materials. Soil Biol Biochem 32:235–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mboh CM, Huisman JA, Vereecken H (2011) Feasibility of sequential and coupled inversion of time domain reflectometry data to infer soil hydraulic parameters under falling head infiltration. Soil Sci Soc Am J 75:775–786CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mertens J, Madsen H, Kristensen M, Jacques D, Feyen J (2005) Sensitivity of soil parameters in unsaturated zone modelling and the relation between effective, laboratory and in situ estimates. Hydrol Process 19:1611–1633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Metting FB (1993) Structure and physiological ecology of soil microbial communities. In: Metting FB (ed) Soil microbia ecology—application in agricultural & environmental management. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 3–24Google Scholar
  30. Möller K, Stinner W, Deuker A, Leithold G (2008) Effects of different manuring systems with and without biogas digestion on nitrogen cycle and crop yield in mixed organic farming systems. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 82:209–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nelson PN, Baldock JA, Oades JM (1998) Changes in dispersible clay content, organic carbon content, and electrolyte composition following incubation of sodic soil. Aust J Soil Res 36:883–897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oades JM (1988) The retention of organic matter in soils. Biogeochemistry 5:35–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pietikainen J, Kiikkila O, Fritze H (2000) Charcoal as a habitat for microbes and its effect on the microbial community of the underlying humus. Oikos 89:231–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Prayogo C, Jones JE, Baeyens J, Bending GD (2014) Impact of biochar on mineralisation of C and N from soil and willow litter and its relationship with microbial community biomass and structure. Biol Fertil Soils 50:695–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Qayyum MF, Steffens D, Reisenauer HP, Schubert S (2012) Kinetics of carbon mineralization of biochars compared with wheat straw in three soils. J Environ Qual 41:1210–1220CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Rasmussen PE, Rohde CR (1988) Long-term tillage and nitrogen fertilization effects on organic nitrogen and carbon in a semiarid soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 52:1114–1117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Six J, Elliott ET, Paustian K, Doran JW (1998) Aggegation and soil organic matter accumulation in cultivated and native soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 62:1367–1377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Skopp J, Jawson MD, Doran JW (1990) Steady-state aerobic microbial activity as a function of soil water content. Soil Sci Soc Am J 54:1619–1925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smith SC, Ainsworth CC, Traina SJ, Hicks RJ (1992) Effect of sorption on the biodegradation of quinoline. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:737–746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Smith JL, Collins HP, Bailey VL (2010) The effect of young biochar on soil respiration. Soil Biol Biochem 42:2345–2347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Steinbeiss S, Gleixner G, Antonietti M (2009) Effect of biochar amendment on soil carbon balance and soil microbial activity. Soil Biol Biochem 41:1301–1310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sun Z, Bruun EW, Arthur E, de Jonge LW, Moldrup P, Hauggaard-Nielsen H, Elsgaard L (2014) Effect of biochar on aerobic processes, enzyme activity, and crop yields in two sandy loam soils. Biol Fertil Soils 50:1087–1097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tenuta M, Lazarovits G (2004) Soil properties associated with the variable effectiveness of meat and bone meal to kill microsclerotia of Verticillium dahliae. Appl Soil Ecol 25:219–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tryon EH (1948) Effect of charcoal on certain physical, chemical, and biological properties of forest soils. Ecol Monogr 18:81–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Walsh JJ, Jones DL, Edwards-Jones G, Williams AP (2012) Replacing inorganic fertilizer with anaerobic digestate may maintain agricultureal productivity at less environmental costs. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 175:840–845CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Weihermueller L, Graf A, Herbst M, Vereecken H (2013) Simple pedotransfer functions to initialize reactive carbon pools of the RothC model. Eur J Soil Sci 64:567–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Weihermuller L, Huisman JA, Graf A, Herbst M, Sequaris JM (2009) Multistep outflow experiments to determine soil physical and carbon dioxide production parameters. Vadose Zone J 8:772–782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zimmerman AR, Gao B, Ahn MY (2011) Positive and negative carbon mineralization priming effects among a variety of biochar-amended soils. Soil Biol Biochem 43:1169–1179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zsolnay A (1997) The development of tests to quantify the potential ecological relevance of the water soluble humus. In: Drozd J, Gonet SS, Senesi N, Weber J (eds) The role of humic substances in the ecosystem and in environemntal protection. Polish Society of Humic Substances, Wroclaw, pp 251–256Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Santanu Mukherjee
    • 1
  • Lutz Weihermueller
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Tappe
    • 1
  • Harry Vereecken
    • 1
  • Peter Burauel
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Agrosphere (IBG-3)Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany
  2. 2.Sustainable CampusForschungszentrum Jülich GmbHJülichGermany

Personalised recommendations