Biochar, The Soil Capacitor

Work With Nature

David talks about his biochar experiments and that got me thinking…

Recently I watched a great talk about the negative priming effects of pyrogenic carbon on soil organic carbon that you may find interesting:

Extrapolating from Silene’s results, when biochar concentration is high enough (~3%) there should be a halving of soil organic carbon (SOC) priming, and this should cause a doubling of SOC sequestration and effectively grow high carbon content Terra Preta soils faster. This correlates well with other research I’ve seen by David Johnson.

What the biochar is doing is interesting. I’ve hypothesised that microbes change metabolic strategy in the presence of enough carbon and in particular high electron transfer biochar, as recently biochar has been shown to increase electron transfer within soils.

So in addition to nutrient sorption, biochar may be acting as a sort of microbe electricity grid, and moving their metabolism from one of oxidation to reduction as they get their energy from the grid, thereby facilitating more SOC sequestration.

If this is the case, to facilitate this we may want high electron transfer biochars that have large surface areas that are effectively many aggregate soil capacitors, which made me think of Robert Murray-Smith’s recent videos in which he creates his own graphene inks for batteries and capacitors, and has been recently been talking about his strange capacitors.

I know from other research that the most productive soils long-term are those that are most connected ecologically, not fungal dominated, though that helps up to a point, and creating these connected soils is important if we want productive systems. This electron transfer effect that biochar has may be one small part of the puzzle along with plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi and other interconnected ecosystems we’ve yet to discover.

Also, if I calculated correctly, in Silene’s video, 450C carbon-13 tagged biochar soil appears to respire at a rate about 13x slower than SOC, so it’s not going to stay around forever.

Nutrient Availability in Soil Amended with Wheat Straw and Legume Residue

wheat vs faba.png

Study: Residue addition frequency influences respiration, microbial biomass and nutrient availability in soil amended with high and low C/N residue

In the image above I’ve basically highlighted the mature dried wheat straw in yellow with a C:N of 80:1 that was first applied to soil. After two weeks the same amount of the green young dry faba bean with a C:N of 20:1 was applied at differing amounts and frequency for two more weeks.

After application of the wheat straw you can see a decline in plant available nitrogen by 75% & phosphorus by 50% in the first two weeks.

After that two week period, adding the equivalent amount of faba bean residue then doubled the original available nitrogen and phosphorus availability, and it seems to me like it may have sustained much higher levels for longer had the study continued. Soil carbon priming in action.

The H1-L4 (High C:N wheat followed by 4 applications of Low C:N faba over two weeks) part of the study however is the most interesting for me. Instead of applying all the faba bean reside in one go, applying it in stages gradually increased (red line) the available N and P. This approach would probably be the most efficient nutrient wise as plant nutrient removal increases as the plant grows, so it makes sense to add the nutrients as it needs them. Plants typically remove nutrients in a sigmoid curve.

sigmoid growth curve.png


Residue Amendment and Soil Carbon Priming for Richer or Poorer

Feed the microbes carbon in C-poor soil and they’ll have a party.
Feed the microbes carbon in C-rich soil and they’ll put it in the C-bank.
This quote is of particular interest, emphasis mine:

The shift of bacterial community composition in response to residue amendment contributes to the sequestration of residue-C in SOC fractions.

Predator-prey carbon sequestration? Sounds similar to the Arthropod predator results. May the shift be with you.

The study:

A 150-day incubation experiment was conducted with 13C-labelled soybean residue (4%) amended into two Mollisols differing in SOC (SOC-poor and SOC-rich soils). …

The amounts of residue-C incorporated into the coarse particulate organic C (POC), fine POC and mineral-associated C (MOC) fractions were 4.5-, 4.3– and 2.4-fold higher in the SOC-rich soil than in the SOC-poor soil, respectively.

Residue amendment led to negative SOC priming before Day 50 but positive priming thereafter.

The primed CO2 per unit of native SOC was greater in the SOC-poor soil than in the SOC-rich soil. This indicates that the contributions of residue-C to the POC and MOC fractions were greater in the SOC-rich soil while residue amendment had stronger priming effect in the SOC-poor soil, stimulating the C exchange rate between fresh and native SOC.

The shift of bacterial community composition in response to residue amendment contributes to the sequestration of residue-C in SOC fractions.

The fate of soybean residue-carbon links to changes of bacterial community composition in Mollisols differing in soil organic carbon

Arthropod Predator Community & Soil Carbon Sequestration

The composition of the arthropod predator community and associated cascading effects on the plant community explained 41% of variation in soil C retention among 15 old-fields across a human land use gradient. We also evaluated the potential for several other candidate factors to explain variation in soil C retention among fields, independent of among-field variation in the predator community. These included live plant biomass, insect herbivore community composition, soil arthropod decomposer community composition, degree of land use development around the fields, field age, and soil texture. None of these candidate variables significantly explained soil C retention among the fields. The study offers a generalizable understanding of the pathways through which arthropod predator community composition can contribute to old-field ecosystem carbon storage.

Predator community composition is linked to soil carbon retention across a human land use gradient. – PubMed – NCBI