Black Carbon (Biochar) in Rice-Based Systems: Characteristics and Opportunities


The total amount of crop residues produced each year in rice-based systems of Asia can be roughly estimated at about 560 million tons of rice straw and about 112 million tons of rice husks (based on 2005 production, a harvest index of 0.5, and a husk/paddy ratio of 0.2). These residues constitute a valuable resource, but actual residue management practices do not use their potential adequately and often cause negative environmental consequences. In the past decades, increasing opportunity costs of organic fertilizer use and shortened fallow periods due to cropping intensification caused a continuous decline in the recycling of crop residues (Pandey 1998). Residue burning is widely practiced and causes air pollution, human health problems, and considerable nutrient losses. The declining return of organic materials to soils does not seem to affect soil quality in mostly anaerobic systems (rice-rice) with good soils but residue recycling is important to maintain soil fertility on poor lowland soils, in mixed cropping systems (rice-upland crop), and in upland systems (Dawe et al. 2003; Ladha et al. 2003; Tirol-Padre and Ladha 2006). Global climate change raises further questions about rice residue management. Decomposition of organic matter in flooded rice is always related to emissions of methane, which is about 22 times more radiatively active than CO2, and rice-based systems are estimated to contribute 9% to 19% of global methane emissions (Denman et al. 2007). In addition, the rapidly increasing interest in renewable energy sources adds new options and consequences for rice residue management and rice-based systems.

An opportunity to address these issues in a completely new way arises from research on anthropogenic soils in the Amazonian region called terra preta de índio (Sombroek 1966). These soils are characterized by high contents of black carbon (carbonized organic matter, biochar) most probably due to the application of charcoal by Amerindian populations 500 to 2,500 years ago. They are also distinguished by a surprisingly high and stable soil fertility contrasting distinctively with the low fertility of the adjacent acid and highly weathered soils, which was at least partially attributed to their high content of black carbon (Lehmann et al. 2003). The high stability of black carbon in soils and its beneficial effect on soil fertility led to the idea that this technology could be used to actively improve poor soils in the humid tropics (Glaser et al. 2001; Lehmann and Rondon 2006). However, most studies in this context concentrated on extensive production systems, on crops other than rice, and on wood as the source of black carbon. But black carbon can be produced by incomplete combustion from any biomass and it is a by-product of modern technologies for bioenergy production (pyrolysis).


Total Organic Carbon Black Carbon Rice Straw Rice Husk Rice Hull 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baldock JA, Smernik RJ (2002) Chemical composition and bioavailability of thermally altered Pinus resinosa (red pine) wood. Org Geochem 33(9):1093–1109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bird MI, Veenendaal E, Moyo C, Lloyd J, Frost P (2000) Stability of elemental carbon in a savanna soil. Global Biogeochem Cy 13(4):933–950Google Scholar
  3. Bremner JM (1996) Nitrogen — total. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 3. Chemical Methods. SSSA Book Series No. 5. Soil Science Society of America & American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI, pp. 1085–1121Google Scholar
  4. Bulford A (1998) Caring for Soil. Kangaroo Press/Simon & Schuster, Australia, p. 102Google Scholar
  5. Chandrasekar V (2005) Utilization of rice by-products (working title). Ph.D. thesis, Post Harvest Technology Center, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu Agricultural UniversityGoogle Scholar
  6. Cheng CH, Lehmann J, Thies JE, Burton SD, Engelhard MH (2006) Oxidation of black carbon by biotic and abiotic processes. Org Geochem 37(11):1477–1488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Czimczik CI, Preston CM, Schmidt MWI, Schulze ED (2003) How surface fire in Siberian Scots pine forests affects soil organic carbon in the forest floor: Stocks, molecular structure, and conversion to black carbon (charcoal). Global Biogeochem Cy 17(1):1020–1040CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dawe D, Dobermann A, Ladha JK, Yadav RL, Lin Bao, Gupta RK, Lal P, Panaullah G, Sariam O, Singh Y, Swarup A, Zhen Q-X (2003) Do organic amendments improve yield trends and profitability in intensive rice systems? Field Crops Res 84:191–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Denman, KL, Brasseur G, Chidthaisong A, Ciais P, Cox PM, Dickinson RE (2007) Couplings between changes in the climate system and biogeochemistry. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB (eds) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 499–588Google Scholar
  10. Detmers J, Schulte U, Strauss H, Kuever J (2001) Sulfate reduction at a lignite seam: Microbial abundance and activity. Microb Ecol 42(3):238–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fakoussa RM, Hofrichter M (1999) Biotechnology and microbiology of coal degradation. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 52(1):25–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. FAO (2006) World reference base for soil resources 2006. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, p. 128Google Scholar
  13. FFTC (2001) Application of rice husk charcoal, leaflet for agriculture 2001 no. 4. Food and Fertilizer Technology Center, TaipeiGoogle Scholar
  14. Galushko A, Minz D, Schink B, Widdel F (1999) Anaerobic degradation of naphthalene by a pure culture of a novel type of marine sulphate-reducing bacterium. Environ Microbiol 1(5):415–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Glaser B, Haumaier L, Guggenberger G, Zech W (2001) The ‘Terra Preta’ phenomenon: A model for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropics. Naturwissenschaften 88:37–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Glaser B, Lehmann J, Zech W (2002) Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal — a review. Biol Fert Soils 35:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hockaday WC, Grannas AM, Kim S, Hatcher PG (2006) Direct molecular evidence for the degradation and mobility of black carbon in soils from ultrahigh-resolution mass spectral analysis of dissolved organic matter from a fire-impacted forest soil. Org Geochem 37(4):501–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hofrichter M, Ziegenhagen D, Sorge S, Ullrich R, Bublitz F, Fritsche W (1999) Degradation of lignite (low-rank coal) by ligninolytic basidiomycetes and their manganese peroxidase system. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 52(1):78–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Islam MS, Ito T (2000) Characterization of physico-chemical properties of and plant responses to environment friendly organic substrates in relation to rock wool. Hort Sci Abstr 35:435Google Scholar
  20. Islam MS, Kitaya Y, Hirai H, Yanase M, Mori G, Kiyota M (2000) Effect of volume of rice husk charcoal masses inside soil ridges on growth of sweet potato in a wet lowland. J Agric Meteorol 56:1–9Google Scholar
  21. Kato H, Komori T, Miyake H (1996) Studies on nutrient solution culture of roses by drainage bed using rice husk charcoal as medium. Res Bull Yamanashi Agric Res Cet 7:15–23Google Scholar
  22. Krüger M, Beckmann S, Engelen B, Cypionka H, Thielemann T (2007) Microbial methane formation from coal and wood — possible sources for biogenic methane in abandoned coal mines. European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Abstract, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  23. Ladha JK, Dawe D, Pathak H, Padre AT, Yadav RL, Singh B, Singh Ya, Singh Y, Kundu AL, Sakal R, Ram N, Regmi AP, Gami SK, Bhandari AL, Amin R, Yadav CR, Bhattari EM, Das S, Aggarwal HP, Gupta RK, Hobbs PR (2003) How extensive are yield declines in long-term fertilizer rice-wheat experiments in Asia? Field Crops Res 81:159–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lehmann J, Rondon M (2006) Bio-char soil management on highly weathered soils in the humid tropics. In: Uphoff N et al. (eds) Biological approaches to sustainable soil systems. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp. 517–530Google Scholar
  25. Lehmann J, Kern DC, German LA, McCann J, Martins GC, Moreira A (2003) Soil fertility and production potential. In: Lehmann J, Kern DC, Glaser B, Woods WI (eds) Amazonian Dark Earths: Origin, Properties, Management. Kluwer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 105–124Google Scholar
  26. Matsumoto T, Kotaki M, Shioiri Y (1994) Examination of composting acceleration and deodoriza-tion of animal manure treated with carbonized rice hull. Res Bull Saitama Livestock Exp Cent 32:72–78Google Scholar
  27. Middelburg JJ, Nieuwenhuize J, van Breugel P (1999) Black carbon in marine sediments. Mar Chem 65(3–4):245–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Miyakado M, Kato T, Ohno N, Yoshioka H, Oshio H (1977) Fungicidal constituents in“Kuntan” smoke. Agric Biol Chem 41:57–64Google Scholar
  29. Nakajima T (1986) Utilization of Kuntan. In: Nougyo Gijyutu Taikei, Dojyo Sehi Hen 7. Nousan Gyoson Bunka Kyokai, pp. 188(2)–188(5)Google Scholar
  30. Nelson DW, Sommers LE (1996) Total carbon, organic carbon, and organic matter. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 3. Chemical Methods. SSSA Book Series no. 5. Soil Science Society of America & American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI, pp. 961–1010Google Scholar
  31. Neue HU, Becker-Heidmann P, Scharpenseel HW (1990) Organic matter dynamics, soil properties, and cultural practices in rice lands and their relationship to methane production. In: Bouwman AF (ed) Soils and the Greenhouse Effect. Wiley, Chichester, pp. 457–466Google Scholar
  32. Oshio H, Nii F, Namioka H (1981) Characteristics of Kuntan (rice hull charcoal) as medium of soilless culture. J Jpn Soc Hort Sci 50:231–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pandey S (1998) Nutrient management technologies for rainfed rice in tomorrow's Asia: Economic and institutional considerations. In: Ladha JK, Wade L, Dobermann A, Reichhardt W, Kirk GJD, Piggin C (eds) Rainfed Lowland Rice: Advances in Nutrient Management Research. International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines, pp. 3–28Google Scholar
  34. Ratna F, Darmijati S, Sakarman, Muhadjir F (1996) Carbonized rice husk as soil ameliorant in agriculture. Indones Agric Res Dev J 18:27–30Google Scholar
  35. Rockne KJ, Chee-Sanford JC, Sanford RA, Hedlund BP, Staley JT, Strand SE (2000) Anaerobic naphthalene degradation by microbial pure cultures under nitrate-reducing conditions. Appl Environ Microbiol 66(4):1595–1601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rondon MA, Molina D, Hurtado M, Ramirez J, Amezquita E, Major J, Lehmann J (2006) Enhancing the productivity of crops and grasses while reducing greenhouse gas emissions through bio-char amendments to unfertile tropical soils. Poster presented at the 18th World Congress of Soil Science, 9–15 July 2006, Philadelphia, PAGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmidt MWI, Noack AG (2000) Black carbon in soils and sediments: Analysis, distribution, implications, and current challenges. Global Biogeochem Cy 14(3):777–793CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shindo H (1991) Elementary composition, humus composition, and decomposition in soil of charred grassland plants. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 37(4):651–657Google Scholar
  39. Soltanpour PN, Johnson GW, Workman SM, Jones Jr JB, Miller RO (1996) Inductively coupled plasma emission spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. In: Sparks DL (ed) Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 3. Chemical Methods. SSSA Book Series no. 5. Soil Science Society of America & American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI, pp. 91–139Google Scholar
  40. Sombroek WG (1966) Amazon soils: A reconnaissance of the soils of the Brazilian Amazon region. Wageningen: Center for Agricultural Publications and DocumentationGoogle Scholar
  41. Sophal C, Vannthan S, Bona S, Rith RS, Lyda H, Yosei O (2006) Effects of rice husk charcoal application on growth and yield of rice: A preliminary study in Cambodia. Jpn J Trop Agric 50:5–6Google Scholar
  42. Taguinod AC (2002) Rice hull: The golden waste. PhilRice Newsletter 15(4), 8Google Scholar
  43. Tanbara K, Kondo T, Kurihara K, Miyamoto T (1973) Water culture of vegetables using carbonized rice husks: Culture of cucumber. Jpn J Soil Sci Plant Nutr 44:421–427Google Scholar
  44. Tirol-Padre A, Ladha JK (2006) Integrating rice and wheat productivity trends using the SAS mixed procedure and meta-analysis. Field Crops Res 95:75–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yamada R, Imaizumi M, Okino H (1992) Effect on soil moisture environment by compost and rice husks charcoal application. Jpn J Soil Sci Plant Nutr 63:232–236Google Scholar
  46. Yanagita T, Jiang Y, Matsumoto S (1997) Carbohydrate and microbial decomposition of the rice hull charred to different degrees. Jpn J Soil Sci Plant Nutr 68:435–437Google Scholar
  47. Zech W, Senesi N, Guggenberger G, Kaiser K, Lehmann J, Miano TM, Miltner A, Schroht G (1997) Factors controlling humification and mineralization of soil organic matter in the tropics. Geoderma 79:117–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Rice Research InstituteLos BanñosPhilippines
  2. 2.University of HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research CenterUbon RatchathaniThailand
  4. 4.Training DivisionOverseas Agricultural Development AssociationTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations