Biochar and environmental quality: Investigating effects of novel agricultural amendments on soil organic matter content and stability
Jessica Miesel, an associate professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, sought to improve the sustainability and productivity of Michigan’s agricultural systems using environmentally beneficial soil amendments.
Researcher: Jessica Miesel
Biochar is a charcoal-like byproduct of pyrolysis bioenergy systems promoted as an agricultural amendment that can also provide environmental and economic benefits. Biochar can enhance soil fertility and crop productivity by increasing nutrient availability and soil moisture content.
However, important differences can exist among biochar types, and in the ways each biochar interacts with contrasting soils. This project leverages an existing field site and develops a replicated mesocosm experiment to investigate the mechanisms involved in how and why biochars increase soil organic matter content and stability after its incorporation into soils.
Led by Jessica Miesel, an associate professor in the MSU Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, the project goal was to improve the sustainability and productivity of Michigan’s agricultural systems using environmentally beneficial soil amendments. Biochar characteristics indicate that it has potential value for agricultural producers in Michigan, where sandy and well- to excessively-well drained soils with low organic matter content are widespread.
The study shows that biochar can increase soil carbon content by up to 137%, and that it influences the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soil that contribute to soil carbon stabilization. This shows that different biochar types can create different responses in soil properties, depending on soil characteristics (i.e., texture) and amendment level. The results helped identify the potential beneficial or detrimental outcomes that may result from applying biochar to soil, depending on biochar type, amendment levels and soil characteristics.