Biogas production and changes in soil carbon input - A regional analysis

Felix Witing*, Nadia Prays, Sinéad O'Keeffe, Ralf Gründling, Michael Gebel, Hans Joachim Kurzer, Jaqueline Daniel-Gromke, Uwe Franko

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The inclusion of biogas production into the agricultural system has modified crop management and as a result the soil organic carbon (SOC) cycle of the agricultural landscape. To evaluate the effects for the German federal state of Saxony this study determines: (1) the share of agricultural land required for biogas production, (2) the change in regional carbon input fluxes to soil during the time of the establishment of the biogas production considering also the quality of sources of different fresh organic matter (FOM) for the formation of SOC and (3) the differences in carbon input to SOC between the area influenced by biogas production (here “biogas fingerprint area” (BFA)) and the surrounding arable land. Based on the location of biogas plants the region was subdivided into biomass providing units (BPUs) where a part of the arable land was considered as affected by biogas production (BFA). We hypothesized that each biogas plant uses a specific substrate mix according to its capacity. The carbon fluxes for each BPU were estimated for the years 2000 (without biogas plants) and 2011 (with biogas plants). For the year 2011, the analysis included the area demand for production of biogas feedstock and digestate recycling. On average 17.6% of the BPU agricultural land was required to supply the biogas plants and dispose of their digestate. Per kilowatt installed electrical capacity this equates to 2.0 ha, including inter alia 0.4 ha for energy crops. Highest area requirements have been observed for biogas plants with <500 kW installed capacity. Between 2000 and 2011 the total carbon flux into soil increased by 2.1%. When considering the quality of different FOM sources the gain in carbon input was 2.8%. The BFAs showed higher carbon input to soil than the surrounding agricultural land due to high contributions from digestate and crop residues (esp. agricultural grass). This compensated the low carbon input from crop by-products (e.g. straw).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-114
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Area requirements
  • Areal efficiency
  • Assessment of sustainability
  • Bioenergy
  • Biogas
  • Carbon flux
  • Land use change
  • Landscape scale
  • Nutrient balance
  • Saxony
  • SOC
  • SOM
  • Sustainable biogas production


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