Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 115, Issue 1, pp 69–83 | Cite as

Amending marginal sandy soils with biochar and lignocellulosic fermentation residual sustains fertility in elephantgrass bioenergy cropping systems

  • Joel Reyes-Cabrera
  • John E. EricksonEmail author
  • Ramon G. Leon
  • Maria L. Silveira
  • Lynn E. Sollenberger
Original Article


Perennial grasses offer potential for high lignocellulosic biomass yields on marginal land that can be used for conversion to biofuels. However, fertilizer nutrient inputs are often required to maintain high yields. This study evaluated biochar and fermentation residuals as alternative supplemental nutrient sources for elephantgrass (Pennisetum purpureum (L.) Schum.) feedstock production. Treatments were (1) 50 kg N ha−1 (E50); (2) 50 kg N ha−1 + fermentation residual (E50FR); (3) 50 kg N ha−1 + biochar (E50BC); and (4) 250 kg N ha−1 (E250). The E50 treatment was not enough to sustain elephantgrass yields over time, as E250 biomass yields were greater in years 3 and 4 compared with E50. Residual amendments had little effect on yield. Plant N concentration in E250 (7.5 g kg−1) was twofold greater compared with all other treatments along with generally greater N removal. Residuals were largely unable to supply additional N, as they did not increase tissue N concentrations or N removal compared with E50. Across years, soil P and Ca levels were 59 and 46% lower, respectively, for E50 and E250 than for E50FR and E50BC, which maintained nearly constant levels throughout the study. Application of biochar (E50BC) increased soil concentrations of Mg, B, Zn, and Mn. Supplemental nutrients are needed to sustain long-term elephantgrass productivity on marginal land of the southeastern U.S. Bioenergy residuals may fill this role when combined with low fertilizer N and possibly K inputs. Identifying optimal amendment application rates will be important to prevent excess accumulation of some elements.


Soil fertility Nutrient management Bioenergy Elephantgrass Residuals Biochar Nutrient cycling 



Funding for this research was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through competitive Grant Number 2012-67009-19596. We would also like to acknowledge Jeffrey Fedenko, Rezzy Manning, Danilo Quadros, and Andrew Schreffler for their assistance in the field and/or lab.


  1. Adams CB, Erickson JE, Singh MP (2015) Investigation and synthesis of sweet sorghum crop responses to nitrogen and potassium fertilization. Field Crops Res 178:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agyin-Birikorang S, O’Connor GA, Pullammanappallil PC, Mohan GR (2013) Recovery of essential plant nutrients from biofuel residual. J Sustain Bioenergy Syst 3:149–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angst T, Sohi S (2013) Establishing release dynamics for plant nutrients from biochar. GCB Bioenergy 5:221–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asman WAH, Sutton MA, Schjorring JK (1998) Ammonia: emission, atmospheric transport and deposition. New Phytol 139:27–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bera T, Vardanyan L, Inglett KS, Reddy KR, O’Connor GA, Erickson JE, Wilkie AC (2019) Influence of select bioenergy by-products on soil carbon and microbial activity: a laboratory study. Sci Total Environ 653:1354–1363CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Biederman LA, Harpole WS (2013) Biochar and its effects on plant productivity and nutrient cycling: a meta-analysis. GCB Bioenergy 5:202–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blanco-Canqui H (2016) Growing dedicated energy crops on marginal lands and ecosystem services. Soil Sci Soc Am J 80:845–858CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Castillo MS, Sollenberger LE, Vendramini JMB, Woodard KR, O’Connor GA, Newman YC, Silveira ML, Sartain JB (2010) Municipal biosolids as an alternative nutrient source for bioenergy crops: I. Elephantgrass biomass production and soil responses. Agron J 102:1308–1313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cayuela ML, Oenema O, Kuikman PJ, Bakker RR, van Groenigen JW (2010) Bioenergy by-products as soil amendments? Implications for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions. GCB Bioenergy 2:201–213Google Scholar
  10. Chintala R, Schumacher TE, Kumar S, Malo DD, Rice JA, Bleakley B, Chilom G, Clay DE, Julson JL, Papiernik SK, Gu ZR (2014) Molecular characterization of biochars and their influence on microbiological properties of soil. J Hazard Mater 279:244–256CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Christofoletti CA, Escher JP, Correia JE, Marinho JFU, Fontanetti CS (2013) Sugarcane vinasse: environmental implications of its use. Waste Manag 33:2752–2761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Evers BJ, Blanco-Canqui H, Staggenborg SA, Tatarko J (2013) Dedicated bioenergy crop impacts on soil wind erodibility and organic carbon in Kansas. Agron J 105:1271–1276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fedenko JR, Erickson JE, Woodard KR, Sollenberger LE, Vendramini JMB, Gilbert RA, Helsel ZR, Peter GF (2013) Biomass production and composition of perennial grasses grown for bioenergy in a subtropical climate across Florida, USA. Bioenergy Res 6:1082–1093CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gadekar S, Pullammanappallil P (2010) Validation and applications of a chemical equilibrium model for struvite precipitation. Environ Model Assess 15:201–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Garten CT (2012) Review and model-based analysis of factors influencing soil carbon sequestration beneath switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Bioenergy Res 5:124–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gartler J, Robinson B, Burton K, Clucas L (2013) Carbonaceous soil amendments to biofortify crop plants with zinc. Sci Total Environ 465:308–313CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gaskin JW, Speir RA, Harris K, Das KC, Lee RD, Morris LA, Fisher DS (2010) Effect of peanut hull and pine chip biochar on soil nutrients, corn nutrient status, and yield. Agron J 102:623–633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geddes CC, Mullinnix MT, Nieves IU, Hoffman RW, Sagues WJ, York SW, Shanmugam KT, Erickson JE, Vermerris WE, Ingram LO (2013) Seed train development for the fermentation of bagasse from sweet sorghum and sugarcane using a simplified fermentation process. Bioresour Technol 128:716–724CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Gubicza K, Nieves IU, Sagues WJ, Barta Z, Shanmugam KT, Ingram LO (2016) Techno-economic analysis of ethanol production from sugarcane bagasse using a liquefaction plus simultaneous saccharification and co-fermentation process. Bioresour Technol 208:42–48CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Hallam A, Anderson IC, Buxton DR (2001) Comparative economic analysis of perennial, annual, and intercrops for biomass production. Biomass Bioenergy 21:407–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. He ZL, Calvert DV, Alva AK, Li YC, Stoffella PJ, Banks DJ (2003) Nitrogen transformation and ammonia volatilization from biosolids and compost applied to calcareous soil. Compost Sci Util 11:81–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Heal OW, Anderson JM, Swift MJ (1997) Plant litter quality and decomposition: an historical overview. In: Cadisch G, Giller KE (eds) Driven by nature. Plant litter quality and decomposition. CAB International, Wallingford, pp 3–30Google Scholar
  23. Ho A, Ijaz UZ, Janssens TKS, Ruijs R, Kim SY, de Boer W, Termorshuizen A, van der Putten WH, Bodelier PLE (2017) Effects of bio-based residue amendments on greenhouse gas emission from agricultural soil are stronger than effects of soil type with different microbial community composition. GCB Bioenergy 9:1707–1720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huang Y, Zou J, Zheng X, Wang Y, Xu X (2004) Nitrous oxide emissions as influenced by amendment of plant residues with different C:N ratios. Soil Biol Biochem 36:973–981CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jeffery S, Bezemer TM, Cornelissen G, Kuyper TW, Lehmann J, Mommer L, Sohi SP, van de Voorde TFJ, Wardle DA, van Groenigen JW (2015) The way forward in biochar research: targeting trade-offs between the potential wins. GCB Bioenergy 7:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson JMF, Sharratt BS, Reicosky DC, Lindstrom M (2007) Impact of high-lignin fermentation byproduct on soils with contrasting organic carbon content. Soil Sci Soc Am J 71:1151–1159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 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
  28. Knoll JE, Anderson WF, Strickland TC (2012) Low-input production of biomass from perennial grasses in the Coastal Plain of Georgia, USA. Bioenergy Res 5:206–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lehmann J, Joseph S (2015) Biochar for environmental management: An introduction. In: Lehmann J, Joseph S (eds) Biochar for environmental management: science, technology and implementation, 2nd edn. Earthscan, New York, pp 1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lehmann J, da Silva JP, Steiner C, Nehls T, Zech W, Glaser B (2003) Nutrient availability and leaching in an archaeological anthrosol and a ferralsol of the central Amazon Basin: fertilizer, manure and charcoal amendments. Plant Soil 249:343–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lehmann J, Gaunt J, Rondon M (2006) Biochar sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems—a review. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob 11:403–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Liang B, Lehmann J, Solomon D, Kinyangi J, Grossman J, O’Neill B, Skjemstad JO, Thies J, Luizao FJ, Petersen J, Neves EG (2006) Black carbon increases cation exchange capacity in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:1719–1730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luh-Huang CY, Schulte EE (1985) Digestion of plant tissue for analysis by ICP emission spectroscopy. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 16:943–958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mehlich A (1953) Determination of P, Ca, Mg, K, Na, and NH4. North Carolina soil test division, MimeoGoogle Scholar
  35. Mohamed I, El-Meihy R, Ali M, Chen F, Raleve D (2017) Interactive effects of biochar and micronutrients on faba bean growth, symbiotic performance, and soil properties. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 180:729–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moran-Salazar RG, Sanchez-Lizarraga AL, Rodriguez-Campo J, Davila-Vazquez G, Marino-Marmolejo EN, Dendooven L, Contreras-Ramos SM (2016) Utilization of vinasses as soil amendment: consequences and perspectives. Springerplus 5:1007CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. Na C, Sollenberger LE, Erickson JE, Woodard KR, Vendramini JMB, Silveira ML (2015) Management of perennial warm-season bioenergy grasses. I. Biomass harvested, nutrient removal, and persistence responses of elephantgrass and energycane to harvest frequency and timing. Bioenergy Res 8:581–589CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Novak JM, Lima I, Xing B, Gaskin JW, Steiner C, Das KC, Ahmedna M, Rehrah D, Watts DW, Busscher WJ, Schomberg H (2009) Characterization of designer biochar produced at different temperatures and their effects on a loamy sand. Ann Environ Sci 3:195–206Google Scholar
  39. Paul JW, Beauchamp EG, Zhang X (1993) Nitrous and nitric oxide emissions during nitrification and denitrification from manure-amended soil in the laboratory. Can J Soil Sci 73:539–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pullammanappallil PC, Svoronos SA, Chynoweth DP, Lyberatos G (1998) Expert system for control of anaerobic digesters. Biotechnol Bioeng 58:13–22CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Ra K, Shiotsu F, Abe J, Morita S (2012) Biomass yield and nitrogen use efficiency of cellulosic energy crops for ethanol production. Biomass Bioenergy 37:330–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Reyes-Cabrera J, Erickson JE, Leon RG, Silveira ML, Rowland DL, Sollenberger LE, Morgan KT (2017) Converting bahiagrass pasture land to elephantgrass bioenergy production enhances biomass yield and water quality. Agric Ecosyst Environ 248:20–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schofield RK, Taylor AW (1955) The measurement of soil pH. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 19:164–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Searchinger T, Heimlich R, Houghton RA, Dong F, Elobeid A, Fabiosa J, Tokgoz S, Hayes D, Yu T (2008) Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319:1238–1240CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Singh MP, Erickson JE, Sollenberger LE, Woodard KR, Vendramini JMB, Gilbert R (2015) Mineral composition and removal of six perennial grasses grown for bioenergy. Agron J 107:466–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 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
  47. Tariq A, Anjum SA, Randhawa MA, Ullah E, Naeem M, Qamar R, Ashraf U, Nadeem M (2014) Influence of zinc nutrition on growth and yield behavior of maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids. Am J Plant Sci 5:2646–2654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Uchimiya M, Wartelle LH, Klasson T, Fortier CA, Lima I (2011) Influence of pyrolysis temperature on biochar property and function as a heavy metal sorbent in soil. J Agric Food Chem 59:2501–2510CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. van Zwieten L, Kimber S, Downie A, Morris S, Petty S, Rust J, Chan KY (2010) A glasshouse study on the interaction of low mineral ash biochar with nitrogen in a sandy soil. Aust J Soil Res 48:569–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wilhelm WW, Johnson JMF, Hartfield JL, Voorhees WB, Linden DR (2004) Crop and soil productivity response to corn residue removal: a literature review. Agron J 96:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wilkie AC, Riedesel KJ, Owens JM (2000) Stillage characterization and anaerobic treatment of ethanol stillage from conventional and cellulosic feedstocks. Biomass Bioenergy 19:63–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Woodard KR, Prine GM (1993) Dry matter accumulation of elephantgrass, energycane, and elephantmillet in a subtropical climate. Crop Sci 33:818–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yamato M, Okimori Y, Wibowo IF, Ashori S, Ogawa M (2006) Effects of the application of charred bark of Acacia mangium on the yield of maize, cowpea and peanut, and soil chemical properties in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 52:489–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zimmerman AR (2010) Abiotic and microbial oxidation of laboratory-produced black carbon (biochar). Environ Sci Technol 44:1295–1301CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Zimmermann J, Dauber J, Jones MB (2012) Soil carbon sequestration during the establishment phase of Miscanthus × giganteus: a regional-scale study on commercial farms using 13C natural abundance. GCB Bioenergy 4:453–461CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel Reyes-Cabrera
    • 1
    • 2
  • John E. Erickson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ramon G. Leon
    • 3
    • 4
  • Maria L. Silveira
    • 5
  • Lynn E. Sollenberger
    • 1
  1. 1.Agronomy DepartmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Division of Plant SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.West Florida Research and Education CenterUniversity of FloridaJayUSA
  4. 4.Department of Crop and Soil SciencesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  5. 5.Range Cattle Research and Education CenterUniversity of FloridaOnaUSA

Personalised recommendations