Biochar's role in mitigating soil nitrous oxide emissions: a review and meta-analysis

M.L. Cayuela, L. van Zwieten, B.P. Singh, S.L. Jeffery, A. Roig, M.A. Sánchez-Monedero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

470 Citations (Scopus)


More than two thirds of global nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions originate from soil, mainly associated with the extensive use of nitrogen (N) fertilizers in agriculture. Although the interaction of black carbon with the N cycle has been long recognized, the impact of biochar on N2O emissions has only recently been studied. Herein we reflect on proposed hypotheses to explain N2O decrease with biochar, linking them to specific mechanisms for N2O formation and consumption in soil. Moreover, to assist in elucidating key mechanisms in which biochar may act in mitigating emissions of N2O, we undertook a meta-analysis using published literature from 2007 to 2013. This quantitative analysis used 30 studies with 261 experimental treatments. Overall, we found that biochar reduced soil N2O emissions by 54% in laboratory and field studies. The biochar feedstock, pyrolysis conditions and C/N ratio were shown to be key factors influencing emissions of N2O while a direct correlation was found between the biochar application rate and N2O emission reductions. Interactions between soil texture and biochar and the chemical form of N fertilizer applied with biochar were also found to have a major influence on soil N2O emissions. While there is clear evidence that, in many cases, emissions of N2O are reduced, there is still a significant lack in understanding of the key mechanisms which result in these changed emissions. As such, we have guided readers with suggestions to address specific research gaps, which we anticipate will enhance our knowledge and understanding of biochar's N2O emission mitigation potential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-16
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • greenhouse-gas emissions
  • organic-matter mineralization
  • carbon-dioxide emissions
  • fast-pyrolysis biochar
  • 2 contrasting soils
  • n2o emissions
  • dairy-manure
  • black carbon
  • nitrifier denitrification
  • nitrate reduction

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